Bloom – Jeff Coffin Mu’tet
I don't know what his music sounded like before he became a Flecktone, but the Jeff Coffin of Bloom has been thoroughgoingly Flecktonized — and so whether or not you like Bloom, the new release from Coffin’s Mu’tet, will depend almost entirely on how you feel about the music Bela, Victor Wooten, Futureman and "Weird Beard" himself have been making for the past few years.
Maybe it's lazy of me to focus on the similarities between Bloom and the Flecktones' work, but it's just… so… obvious. The perpetually buoyant vibe — the frequent use of complex time signatures — the benign infusion of Eastern and Western music that teeters ever so closely to the still waters of New Age and smooth jazz… am I missing anything? Coffin has surrounded himself with an array of talented musicians for this self-produced project (foremost among them Jeff Sipe on drums, Tyler Wood on keys, bassist Derek Philip Jones, Chris Thile, DJ Logic, as well as the obligatory appearances by Bela, Victor and Futureman), and is currently out on the road promoting it, but unlike Bela, whose recent solo albums have diverged sharply from the Flecktone formula, Coffin has decided to pretty much stick with the recipe.
Which is not to say that Bloom is a bad album, just predictable. The brassy New Orleans combo that opens the album up is fun but elementary, and the soul-funk "Evil Boweevil" that follows should churn, but instead merely sways. Considering the lineup and the opportunity a solo album presents a jazz musician like Coffin to go outside the limits of Flecktone material, I expected a healthy dose of down-and-dirty jazz-funk-fusion, but instead had to wait until the penultimate track ("Weird Beard") to hear something that sounded like it caused the musicians to sweat. Even the frequent presence of turntables and digital samples/programming can’t steer this album away from the middle of the road.
Fortunately, musicians as talented as these are bound to hit the high mark eventually, and Bloom is not without its keepers. The trancey, off-balanced "Hatim" is as inventive a combination of electronic and middle-Eastern music as anything Bill Laswell has done. "Bloom" is reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi’s memorable work on the Charlie Brown TV specials — the track features vocals from the W.O. Smith Community Music School Choir as well as marvelous playing from Tyler Wood on piano and Bela on banjo. And "As Light Through Leaves," which Coffin wrote as a tribute to African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, is a spiritually-uplifting eight minutes of music, with Chris Thile’s mandolin, Coffin’s alto flute and Wooten’s acoustic bass speaking to the idea behind the title — to radiate in one’s life with the temperate intensity of light coming through leaves. It’s a perfect piece to listen to after one has contemplated the relative dullness of the rest of the album.