Michael Cain – Sola (2015)

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Keyboardist, composer, producer and educator Michael Cain is certainly prolific enough: he’s worked quite a bit with jazz’s leading lights including Jack DeJohnette, Pat Metheny, Meshell Ndegeocello, Greg Osby, Ravi Coltrane and Robin Eubanks. He’s also made more than ten records under his own name. Earlier this month, the restless Cain followed up on an album where he only needed to compose and arrange for himself (Solo) to one where he envisioned the music with other musicians in mind.

Sola, as its called, is three quarters sextet and one quarter trio, but one hundred percent the widely inclusive musical vision of Cain. The sextet — where Cain is joined by Renaldo Elliot (drums), Abo Gumroyan (bass), Mike Gonzales (trumpet), Julian Tanaka (clarinet) and Eddie Rich (saxophone) — calls to mind the highly telepathic collective Weather Report. As in, the pre-Pastorius Weather Report that was open, specious and freewheeling, where members never did solos just for the sake of solos. Cain also has Joe Zawinul’s intuition for turning electric pianos and analog synthesizers into texturally pleasing conduits for bop with an electronic quirkiness that seems to borrow from Jaga Jazzist.

The brief opener “Orun” announces as much; Cain is emitting, soft, rich chords that float above Elliot’s frisky percussion, as the horns are used a lot like they’ve been used in jazz since the early times, i.e., to set the melodic theme. The traditional “Esu Dance” is anything but in Cain’s hands. His Fender Rhodes renders a repeating figure amid lively percussion as Gonzales’ full-toned trumpet paints on this canvas, and the dreamy bridge that follows is peppered with pleasing synth-y accents.

Cain’s deep interest in EDM comes to the fore with the programmed rhythm of “In The Front Door,” but apace with his warm electric piano chords and 70s style soul-jazz Moog is sampled speech from his former boss the late, great bandleader Gerald Wilson recounting civil rights progress for black musicians in Cain’s childhood town of Las Vegas. More electronica goodness comes by means of the futuristic African groove “Wogg,” and Cain chose to make the horn line responsible for the World Fusion flavor and free himself up to create a cosmic atmosphere around it. The slowly simmering “The Sin You’ve Been Looking For” provides a platform for thoughtful solos from Tanaka’s clarinet as well as Cain’s Rhodes.

The trio numbers with acoustic bassist James Genus and elite drummer Billy Hart demonstrate that an altered context doesn’t necessarily alter Cain’s mission. “Mais Uma Noite” is a gentle bossa nova that Cain undertakes, cushioned further by mellow Moog accents. Right at the end of the album is the lone all-acoustic number “My Moyo,” where Cain’s comfortable style on electronic keyboards carries over admirably to the piano.

With an imaginative mind and worldly experience, fresh and appealing ideas can still be mined within the realm of fusion jazz. Michael Cain’s Sola attests mightily to that notion.

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