Blue In The Face – Ray’s Music Exchange
Back in the 70s, there was a genre known as fusion. In reality, though, fusion was a blanket term for three types of musical exploration: jazz/rock, jazz/funk or jazz/pop. Jazz/pop…well, the less said about that, the better. Jazz/rock combined jazz's improvisational drive with rock's technological advances and, for better or worse, its grandiosity. Jazz/funk, though, seldom generated much weighty discussion, but that didn't matter much since it had few aims other than to spark a party. People such as The Crusaders made a decent name for themselves, were undoubtedly fun in concert and have now found a new function as sample fodder for hip-hoppers.
Jamband music is an even more ridiculous blanket term than fusion, but it encompasses some of the modern artists working in what would have been called a fusion vein. A prime example is Cincinnati's Ray's Music Exchange. RME has slimmed down from eight pieces to four since the last time I encountered them, on 1999's Alivexchange, but the size change has done more to increase their focus than to spoil the fun. Three veterans of that CD (guitarist Brad Myers, trumpeter/keyboardist Michael Mavridoglou and bassist Nick Blasky) remain, and along with new drummer Eli Hludzik they execute their chosen mission nicely.
Like most of the jazz/funk of yore, most of this CD is fleet, chopsy and untroubling. Mavridoglou's trumpet evokes Freddie Hubbard's sunny facility more than Miles's darkness, and Blasky and Hludzik lay down a firm, though seldom interactive, groove. Varying the program are a couple of excursions that fall closer to jazz/rock rather than jazz/funk, as well as showcasing Myers' more psychedelic-tinged talents: "Blue," which in early Phish fashion marries a stoned, silly lyric to a grandiose guitar driven outro, and "Exidor," which spends its entire nine minutes exploring similar moods to "Blue"'s second half. Rather than weighing things down, though, these two cuts add to the variety of the program, and do the most to push RME's fare beyond the generic.
For the most part, though, Blueintheface is simple fun. It goes on a bit long, perhaps, and gets a tad subdued for stretches such as Blasky’s bass/vocal feature "Synchrocosmic," but RME do what they do undeniably well. They can play, and can deliver catchy and well-constructed showcases for their chops. And, as with many of those 70s groups, it’s doubtlessly a notch or two dirtier and more energetic in concert.