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The Wild Call of the Multi Tasker – Aaron Koppel Quartet

The Wild Call of the Multi-Tasker by the Aaron Koppel Quartet is an album full of poetry and potential, though I am not so sure it is named correctly. Lets Go Back Home would be a much better title, but only because Lets Go, and Back Home, the first and last tracks, respectively, are the albums best. The unfortunate thing, however, is the middle is as thin as Lindsay Lohans nasal linings. I think this criticism is deserved in part for how good the band can play. They show so much potential. Yet the bookending tracks fail to obscure the note-ridden and forgettable middle no matter how brightly they sparkle.

The first few bars of Lets Go serve as the albums invocation, each member of the band hinting at melodies, harmonies, and rhythms to come. Just when all-those-not-tripping are about to slip into a snore, the music eases forward with the rhythm section of bassist Graham Czach and drummer Robbie Tucker sliding into a comfortable groove. Koppel and keyboardist Matt Nelson resist all noodling. I repeat: they resist all noodling. The track winds down to silence, leaving the listener hanging and intrigued.
The outro that follows is a prime example of what the Aaron Koppel Quarter is good at: playing melody. Koppel is clearly a talented composer and arranger, capable of dreamy and soulful tunes that turn a long day at the office easily into a comfortable ride home. Back Home, is another example of the compositional poetry he is capable of. It, too, displays the band at its finest. The musicians relax, stop thinking, and simply play. The rhythm section is only there to nudge the music forward. The music is patient and serene.
Mr. Gordon, the honor is all yours: I thought you were playing too many notes.

This ingenious reproach can be directed at so much of improvisational music today, including some former Phish bassist Mike Gordon himself participates in. Time and time again Koppel and his band are lulled into working out their scalar muscles rather than sticking to creative compositions and arrangements.

Tracks like Release the Beast sound like Pat Metheny playing with Soulive and not like John Scofield playing with Medeski, Martin & Wood. While I am sure that in a jazz club or a sweaty smoky room full of dreadlocks, this noodle vehicle is a treat for the ears, the past few years seemed to have taught us that lengthy recorded improvisations best be the product of a well-developed solo and not just notes over the changes. One for the Soul does do some to redeem the inappropriate middle of this disc. However, it and a few other brilliant passages are lost in a sea of complicated but pointless lead lines, white boy grooves, and showy drumming.
When John Lennon was asked by Dick Cavett what was so great about the Beatles, and he responded with something like, We were a good band. We could put any little thing together, he could not have been any more accurate. And perhaps it was that bands ability to never really be doing anything more than putting a little thing together that made them so great. Musicians, especially those in improvisational music today, are often too caught up in moving their fingers in ever-more Byzantine patterns instead of focusing on the simple concepts taught in Music 101, concepts that result in musicnothing more, nothing less. Maybe it would be best if Koppel dropped the multi-tasking and stuck to what he and his band do best, playing melody. That task alone will suffice.

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