Allophone serves up many styles, plenty of AGP chemistry

Addison Groove Project’s sophomore album Allophone provides a good introduction to the band’s tight jazz-fusion sound. The music, like that of many modern jambands, combines elements of jazz with rock with funk and is heavily influenced by the late ’60s and ’70s work of fusion pioneers Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. Throughout the album, AGP demonstrates that their greatest strength is their ability to maintain consistently tight grooves, which frequently display their talented musicianship and vocals. On Allophone, this young, Boston-based band proves that they are capable of creating a blend of jazz that is accomplished, energetic and remarkably danceable, even though the music itself is sometimes derivative of previous fusion efforts. AGP will be playing locally on Friday at Northern Lights in Clifton Park, N.Y., just outside of Albany.

“Turning Points,” the fourth track on the album, exemplifies their musical approach. It begins with Brendan McGinn, AGP’s guitar and trumpet player, playing a short guitar riff that repeats and is then quickly accompanied by a few measures of intense drums, bass and keyboards. This sonic assault then abruptly stops after only a few seconds and the horn section fills the space with a riff that responds to the previous guitar notes. They repeat this complex musical exchange a few more times before heading full speed back into the groove. The horns lead the way forcefully with smooth melodies that are simultaneously somber and energetic. Eventually the jam opens up, affording several band members the opportunity to shine in solos. McGinn’s guitar solo is particularly compelling as a result of the bittersweet emotion he conveys.

This track is characteristic of AGP’s music in several ways. First, it demonstrates that each member of the band is quite talented individually. From John Hall’s thick bass, which grounds the music to rhythm, to Ben Groppe’s tenor sax and Dave Adams’ alto sax in contemplative solos, it is evident that all of the band members possess great musical skills. “Turning Points” highlights AGP’s tightness as a unit. The interplay between the musicians is clearly very strong as evidenced by the complex opening to the album.

This track furthermore shows off the band’s ability to create and hold a groove that is filled with danceable energy while retaining a funky and somber mood. Nevertheless, this song also demonstrates their weaknesses. Although the musicianship, interplay and jamming are impressive, the music itself still does not feel extraordinarily original. “Turning Points” is one of the strongest cuts on the album, and it still feels quite derivative of ’70s fusion jazz.

The band seems to be aware of this problem and tries to remedy it by exploring other styles, such as hip-hop and reggae. Of these experiments, the hip-hop ones are by far the most successful. The second track on the album, “Carpal Tunnel,” is easily the best song on the disc. It opens with blinding speed and contains hard, uncompromising bass lines and fierce horn attacks accompanied by an unknown DJ – presumably jam-band luminary DJ Logic, although the artist is nowhere named – who is furiously scratching at the turntables. Eventually, the song shifts into lighter, more ethereal and light-hearted jazz, before deftly returning to the heavy fusion that the album originally began with.

Other songs which similarly employ hip-hop beats and themes, such as “Breathe” and “Hiphop-anonymous” are also some of the most successful tracks on the album. These rhythms incorporate effortlessly into their interpretation of jazz, and they work the similarities brilliantly. The reggae-influenced “Just so you know” does not work as well because although it is compelling instrumentally and vocally, it simply sounds too much like a Bob Marley rip-off and therefore suffers from the same lack of originality as AGP’s more straightforward and traditional fusion jazz.

With Allophone, AGP reveals that they are very talented musicians who are capable of generating solid grooves that are often extremely complex and compelling. Their passion for the music is also apparent in the amount of energy they display throughout the album. Nevertheless, the music they are playing right now sometimes sounds a little too far into safe territory, since it is often very derivative of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock’s later work. For the band to grow, they need to take more risks and work on developing a more distinctive sound.

However, AGP is a young band, and Allophone demonstrates that they are already quite accomplished. In addition, they have not really built their reputation on studio work, but instead they are known throughout New England for their impressive live shows. It would be worth it to check them out this weekend at Northern Lights. It is safe to assume that their highly enjoyable blend of fusion will only improve, and perhaps Addison Groove Project will become an influential jazz band in their own right someday.

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