Joe Blessett – Changing Everything (2012)

Joe Blessett offers that rarest of things – a jazz recording with as much risk as it has enterprise. Changing Everything reveals itself as by turn challenging and approachable, two things that so rarely share the same stage anymore.

Blessett positively bursts out with the album’s angular, compelling title track, offering a layered performance on saxophone. First, he creates a line, then occasionally answers himself in tandem – ultimately constructing a sense of brilliant mayhem. As demanding as that overlay can no doubt be, however, the tandem cadence is one part free jazz and another part funky second line. The sprawling, 19-song Changing Everything continues on in this way, deftly skirting expectations by combining unlikely sounds to create an endlessly fascinating, ever changing musical palette. Ultimately, it’s as industrious as it is engaging.

Tracks like “Seduction of Dream” and “Brothers” explore deeper, much deeper, into the R&B underpinnings of that opening cut, with Blessett settling into a bluesy late-night mood over a darkly imaginative rhythmic counterpoint. “Seduction” and “Street to the Stage” even include an old-school wah-wah guitar. A tougher hip-hop rhythm propels “Oceanside” and “Anna Mae’s Place,” but their mechanized repetitiveness is brilliantly juxtaposed first against a cerulean electric piano and these incisive trumpet retorts, and then on “Anna Mae” with a steamy, wordless vocal.

There are, through the album, nods to the sweeping influence of Miles Davis – in particular during his fiery fusion era, as on “Giving It,” with its street-level muted trumpet, weird electronic blurps and insistent groove. “Hidden Edges” adds an ethereal vocal, even as Blessett and Co. continue in this simmering mood. “Miles” echoes the steaming funk that typically underpinned Davis’ work from the turn of the 1970s forward. “Amoral Behavior” returns Changing Everything to its initial, intriguingly cacophonous atmosphere, as Blessett solos over an undulating carpet of musical interruptions – a boiling cymbal crash, a backwards-walking piano, a blurt of flute, these gusts of synthesizers. “Defining Change,” meanwhile, sounds like a song being torn apart at the seams, with a sax and trumpet tangling and untangling over an apocalyptic beat.

Perhaps the album’s most stunning moment is “Jazz R.I.P.,” which starts with a rousing brass-band interlude before Blessett and his cohorts begin adding an ever-shifting, ever-growing number of instrumental effects – ultimately giving the tune a kind of dangerously unstable majesty, like the wonder of shifting tectonic plates. But even as “Jazz R.I.P.” ebbs and then flows, there are moments of startling beauty, knife-fighter stabs, and boundless joy. The brassy counterpoint returns, like a fleeting thought, and then – just like that — the track comes to a crashing halt.

Still, don’t get the idea that Changing Everything is simply an excursion into the outer reaches. Blessett, to great effect, has flecked the project with breezy instrumental interludes like the perhaps ironically named “Necessary Drama,” a tune so satiny it edges off into smooth jazz. The sensual “Talking to Miles” features a lengthy rumination on the sax that is as confident as it is accessible. “Thank You” and “I Love You” are fun mechano-funk workouts, very much in the style of early 1980s Marcus Miller, though unfortunately “It’s Been Fun” is more texture than actual inspiration.

If tracks like “Fun,” the sometimes-disjointed “Sometimes, Life Just Hurts” and meandering “White Roses” end up more as noble experiments than completely realized successes, then that’s part and parcel both of Blessett’s boundless enthusiasm and the double-album length of Changing Everything. Projects like this help us understand the scope of someone’s vision, and that includes the times when our intrepid explorer stumbles along the way.

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Changing Everything

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.