A dazzling and cosmopolitan trip, Into the Air finds Jeff Coffin and his Mu’Tet in fine form indeed. In service of the sound, the saxophonist and composer has aligned with colleagues like Bill “The Spaceman” Fanning (trumpet, space trumpet), Kofi Burbridge (piano, keyboards, flute), Felix Pastorius (electric bass), and Jeff Sipe (drums, percussion).
“This is not easy music to play,” says Coffin, “but these guys make it sound easy.”
The pedigree of the organization is hard to mess with. From Coffin’s gigs with the likes of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and the Dave Matthews Band to Burbridge’s time with the Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band, these cats know what they’re doing from a technical perspective.
But they also manage that special, can’t-bottle-it verve that makes this music sound so great when it’s done the right way. Whereas so many technically sound musicians go through the motions (and the charts) inertly, Coffin and his Mu’Tet bound through like they’re on fire. They deliver the sort of vibe that can’t be taught, the kind of savagery that only comes with having it inside to begin with.
“All my favorite musicians — Ornette Coleman and Louis Armstrong and Bob Dylan and Radiohead — have a similar quality,” the Nashville-based Coffin explains. “They all give me goose bumps. I think if you’re not getting goose bumps from what you’re doing, if your hair isn’t standing on end, then the music is missing something.”
Into the Air digs in immediately to prove itself goose bump-worthy, announcing the sweaty and sluggish drawl of “A Half Sleep” with beautifully languid horns and a whole lot of blues.
From there, the group smacks into one of the slickest (and sickest) grooves on the disc. “U Don’t Say” pulsates neon, brimming with Coffin’s pedaled bass clarinet and a little Herbie Hancock-influenced keys. It smacks of fusion jazz at its most boozy, but it’s also got an alluring slink to it that sets it up as the soundtrack vibe to a 1970s grindhouse flick about a pimp and the wrong side of town.
In setting up these two outwardly incongruent consistencies, Coffin and the Mu’Tet are only getting started. The heat never subsides, with Into the Air popping through the funk-happy “8 Big Goggles” and the siren-and-sky-infused “Slow Glass” without missing the broader context or artistic aroma. The record blends things elegantly, never shifting abruptly and always preserving a vibrant stride.
An exhilarating, vital, raw record, Into the Air is an incredible piece of jazz from an artist who claims he didn’t even know what the art form was early on. It’s fair to say that he knows it now and has, together with the Mu’Tet, formed one of its most vigorous and electrifying modern visions.