Eric Hofbauer and the Infrared Band - Level (2011)


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Boston-based guitarist Eric Hofbauer penned the liner notes to his new album out today, Level, beginning it with the testimony that “the music on Level ... explores the human condition using sound to tell stories." He then goes on to explain that the album “offers nine mythology-themed pieces about duality in the universe and in life—two sides trying to find balance." These are pretty metaphysical and abstract concepts he lays on his listeners, but it actually helps in understanding the concept behind the music and thus, the music itself.That's because Level, the second album by the Hofbauer-led Infrared Band, flips often between two characters, a mainstream jazz one and a whack jazz one. Between extended song forms and short, compressed ideas. Between conventional tasks and stepping outside of those traditional duties to undertake unconventional ones.

Hobfbauer's cavernous Guild guitar projects the directness he demands from his music, generating a tone not terribly dissimilar to Philip Catherine's, but with the mindset of his contemporary, Jeff Parker. The rest of Infrared includes Kelly Roberge (tenor sax), Sean Farias (bass) and Miki Matsuki (drums). As the other front-line player, Roberge has good telepathy with Hofbauer, but Hofbauer wrote all nine songs with each band member in mind, having them often step outside of their instruments' traditional roles to create the myths. That's what lies at the heart of what drives the music on this album.

“These Two Things" kicks off the proceedings in a deceptively straightforward way, though with each passing listen more of the underlying elaborations of that esoteric melody reveals itself behind Roberge's saxophone expressions. Things take a sharp turn for the eccentric on “La Ligne de Chance," a deconstruction where each member takes turns improvising on mere shards of concepts. The duality of “The Faction" can be found in the melody of the guitar/sax competing against the counter-currents of Farias' bass. “Murder For A Jar Of Red Rum" starts out as morbid as one would expect from a song with a title like that, but out of the haze briefly emerges a quaint, almost early jazz melody. “Pocket Chops" is a Monk-type tune as player by Hofbauer, but Roberge pushes it out to the fringes and Farias engages in an interesting dialogue with the guitarist. The three shorts have their own charms. Small, compacted ideas explore space and oh so little time, I especially like “Ghost And Giants" for Hofbauer's eery blues plucking over a rumbling bass.

Eric Hofbauer & the Infrared Band's Level might be trying to conjure up modern day mythology, but the sophistication and virtuosity that went into making these recordings is no made up story. No, these guys are for real.

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