We all know that Austin, TX is a hotbed for music, with so many artists located there to take advantage of its vibrant scene. Normally when we think of Austin music, blues-rock, roots, folk and singer-songwriter acts come to mind, like The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Eric Johnson, Monte Montgomery, Marcia Ball and James McMurtry, just to scrape the tip of the iceberg. But the capital of Texas is also home to so much more styles of music. When it comes to fusion jazz, this town has a fast emerging leading light in trumpeter and keyboardist Erik Telford.
Like nearly every other troubadour who calls the River City home, Telford is not from there (he was born in California), but as the saying goes about non-native Texans, he got there as soon as he could. Having worked as a sideman to heavy hitters such as Wynton Marsalis, Maria Schneider, Louis Bellson and Joshua Redman, Telford has formed a band of his own, The Erik Telford Collective (ETC) and a horn section-for-hire, the Hellfire Horns, as well as performing in Kalu James' band.
A couple of weeks ago, Telford cut loose his first CD Kinetic on his own, debuting on disc his own brand of rock-jazz. Culling together tunes he's written over the course of some ten years and recorded in four to eight instrument line-ups live" in the studio, this is a debut that benefits from both the careful collection of strong material and the dynamism of a live performance. Telford smartly looks back to the seventies golden era of fusion as a template for his own sound. But this isn't the heady fusion of Mahavishnu or the funky fusion of Head Hunters: it's a benign balance of both.
Consisting of seven full compositions and four passages, Kinetic takes a different approach on each track, making it easy to listen with interest from start to finish. Horizon Problem" (see live video below) seems to draw it's grand intro from the beginning of Freddie Hubbard's fusion classic Red Clay" and likewise launches into a intrinsic groove percolated to perfection by the electric piano (Angelo Lembesis), electric bass (Marcus Caldwell) and drums (Charles Phillips). Telford rides this on a electrified horn and is later on Matthew Maley's sax joined in a competing solo by Danny Anderson's rock guitar in a ferocious dual, bringing the song to a climax that must be appreciated even better live, before returning to the trumpet/sax/trombone-led theme. Now this is how I remember fusion used to be played.
3012" makes for a nice cooling off from the heat of Horizon Problem," an extended modal piece that works well as a showpiece for Telford's clear, polished tone. Anderson again is a highlight on Death Trap," a mid-tempo soulful number anchored by Cardwell's dark bass line. Here as in the other tunes, Telford creates some thoughtful horn charts that enhance the groove, not weigh it down. Lifted" has a melody that could have worked as an acoustic jazz ballad for a small combo, but Telford bolsters it with another well-conceived horn chart and brings the music into the modern era with a Rhodes and guitar. The Rival" comes over to the rock side more than the other tracks, but even here are all the lively improvisation and group interaction that is more often associated with jazz.
Kinetic,"placed right in the middle of the record, throws off another vibe altogether, as Telford uses different personnel for it; Nick Murray's organ and synth gives it the grease, and John Viviani's guitar along with Devon Tramall's drums bring the funk. There's no horn line fronting this song, but what Telford brings instead is some intelligent trumpet playing where he is closer to sounding like Miles Davis (check out his solo, in particular), and yet still remains his own man.
So who is the next big thing that's going to emerge out of Austin? I have no idea. But after taking in Kinetic, I'm going to sure keep an eye---or an ear, rather---on what Erik Telford is doing.