Drivetime – Ignition (2013)

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Drivetime calls what they do “urban organic jazz” and, actually, that about sums it up. The Philly group blends Latin rhythms, Tower of Power-style grooves and these satiny smooth instrumental lines on Ignition, making for an approachable, very fun experience.

Percussionist Bernie Capodici’s “Easy Livin’” begins things, with John Sorrenti’s feisty guitar and special guest star Richard Orr’s saxophone tangling and untangling over an R&B-shaped cadence. Even amidst an icy cool electric piano interlude, Capodici and drummer Mike Piper continue laying down a thrillingly insistent accompaniment, before Orr brings everything to a sweetly conveyed conclusion. “Lincoln Drive,” composed by keyboardist Jeff Bichaylo and arranged by Capodici, finds special guest Andrew Neu joining Orr to create tandem saxophone lines. Echoing David Sanborn at his most radio-ready, the track then expands to feature Orr on flute – and in this spacious new place, Chris Friedrick’s thunking bass takes on a new musical insistence. Drivetime settles into a head-wagging groove, and stays there – providing Orr with plenty of room to explore a warm and inviting tone on the sax. Sorrenti and Friedrich offer a few tangy thoughts, too.

Guitarist Vinnie Zummo sits in for “On My Mind Again,” a song that brilliantly moves from twilight reminiscence toward a mid-tempo sway. Zummo swerves in and around Orr, unleashing a series of smart and very tart asides. Both tracks were composed by Bichaylo and arranged by Capodici. Meanwhile, Phillis Chapell joins the proceedings for two vocal showcases, first with the sensuous and smoky “It’s Love We’re In,” a collaboration between Capodici and multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Dell’Orefice that recalls the best of Anita Baker’s pop-jazz sides. Later, her take on “Mas Que Nada” is a convulsive, engaging romp – from her frisky way with the lyric, to its invigorating rhythmic propulsion, to Orr’s flights of fancy on the flute.

Dell’Orefice’s triumphal, intriguingly episodic “La Chanson De Mars,” arranged by Capodici, stands as the project’s most inspired, most contemplative moment. Orr again switches to flute, as Piper and Co. create a quietly involving setting. Dell’Orefice’s featured keyboard solo sweeps from a cerulean ambiance to this spacy sense of wonder, before Orr returns with a feathery, utterly gorgeous turn. Dell’Orefice, switching to piano and then to accordion, leads the song through an anthematic interlude, and then back toward its heart-filling end.

Not all of it works: Sorrenti’s “Beige” should have had a more inviting ruminative quality, what with his quietly assertive lines and the sound of waves crashing on the shore. But, in this case, Drivetime’s accompanying rhythm is too metronomic, and too up close in the mix. Dell’Orefice’s title track, also arranged by Capodici, bursts out with a 1980s-style synth crunch – a dated effect that sinks what could have been a terrific opportunity for the band to explore the outer edges of its fusion sound. Finally, Justin Guarini’s spoken-word style of vocalizing, featured on Capodici’s “Urban Symphony,” feels jarringly out of place. It’s not that hip hop couldn’t find a home within this album’s wide-open, creative context. It’s that Drivetime doesn’t make room for this very modern style anywhere else – giving its one-and-done inclusion a tacked-on feel.

Still Drivetime, always moving, always grooving, finds a way to right itself each time.

Ignition includes two Capodici compositions among its final trio of songs, first Orr’s flute showcase on “Missy Mae Thang,” a grease-popping R&B number given this smart rhythmic complexity by its Latin-flavored percussive elements. Then, there’s “Mamita,” which brings this project to a boisterous, joy-filled conclusion. Sorrenti offers a series of scorching rock-inspired runs, before Orr leads the song back toward its propulsive, very spicy center point – illustrating for one final time what makes Drivetime’s new album such a layered, listenable delight.

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