The Leif Arntzen Band – Continuous Break (2013)

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I’m not saying that trumpet player Leif Arntzen has been around a while, but he has a son, drummer Miles, who’s making a name for himself in the afrobeat arena. Nowadays, though, ol’ Dad’s been making his own mark in jazz.

Stepping out from a sideman role that has taken him through stints in the bands of Tito Puente and the Gil Evans Orchestra, among others, Arntzen has spent recent years molding his own imprint through his Leif Arntzen Band. The acronym that name makes, LAB, accurately portrays how he runs this band, like a laboratory of music where his songs are brought to the table to be dissected, picked apart and transformed by his five piece band. It’s a band full of rising stars who are legitimate leaders on their own within the NYC jazz scene, too: bassist Michael Bates, guitarist Ryan Blotnick, drummer Jeff Davis and keyboardist Landon Knoblock. Using local clubs to conduct and hone their experiments, Arntzen eventually brought his quintet into the studio to document their cumulative noise.

Continuous Break is a studio album in name only, as this is a frayed-edged collection of art, devoid of slickness or a whole lot of forethought. Throughout a variety of modes, moods and methods, a strong collective approach pervades this record and makes it jazz in essence if not in style.

Arntzen’s bop-based but exploratory trumpet inevitably draws comparisons to Miles, but he captures the right shade of Miles for the right song: For “The Call,” which sounds like a Plugged Nickel live performance with electric instruments snuck in, finds the leader playing a very frisky mute. Blotnick matches it with some eccentric guitar phrasing that reveals a refreshing originality. “Psykodelic Divide,” swings, but the melody and Knoblock’s electric piano points toward fusion. With Arntzen’s warm, seamless horn soaring over a restless rhythm section, it could have been a lost track from Miles In The Sky or Filles de Kilimanjaro. And then there’s “Tired,” a chunky, plodding bluesy rock-jazz not too unlike “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down.”

Other tracks step outside of jazz altogether instead of testing its boundaries. “Beautiful Mind” is an open ended, diffused and defined by Blotnick’s carefully considered chords until the song picks up steam when Arntzen asserts himself. “Street Dog,” as funky as it is, is even more overtly blues, featuring a real gritty slide from Blotnick. Eventually, Arntzen leads then band into a ruminative, free flowing fragment for extended coda.

The two standards covered here are played fairly straight, with much sensitivity. “My Ideal” is an elegant, polished performance in the middle of an album where they elsewhere strived to go in the other direction. “Bye Bye Blackbird” is also sanguine, with a flawless tone coming out of Arntzen’s horn.

By and large, this is an album that worries little about smoothing out sharp corners in favor of direct, spontaneous and unified expression. The Leif Arntzen Band left that studio with its integrity intact.

Continuous Break hits the street on May 25, by Gwendoline Records. Visit the Leif Arntzen Band’s website for more info.

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