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Published: 2008/08/22
by Randy Ray

Mutopia – Jeff Coffin Mutet

Compass 4473
Sometimes you just gotta blow, and sometimes you just gotta lay out. Jeff Coffin is a longtime member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and currently touring as a member of Dave Matthews Band while subbing for the injured saxophonist LeRoi Moore. The composer/saxophonist/flutist/uber-jazz musician accomplishes those twin tasks on his first solo album since 2005s Bloom. The work is a laidback yet very progressive affair as these things are wont to be, but the interesting hook is Coffins keen ability to create an atmosphere where his fellow musicians can relax and play heady music.
The composer climbs lofty heights on Mutopia, delivering straight up minimalist funk (Tag), inyoface bluegrass street funk (!) (Bubble Up with a sublime banjo solo from Coffins other employer, Bela Fleck, and driving bass tones from Alana Rocklin), and galvanizing headphone odysseys (Als Greens featuring a wicked tenor sax from Coffin, Kofi Burbridge on flute and keys, and separate bass solo duels/trade-offs/synergy from Felix Pastorius and Victor Wooten).
But it is mid-point in the album where Coffin delivers, perhaps, his most beautifully played and restrained composition to date, Turiya. The bandleader plays soprano sax and flute on the track, but the spotlight also shines on Roy Futureman Wooten on exquisite drums, Pastorius on bass, and Burbridge on one of those late night ten-minute piano escapades that take the listener out of ones head and into a special space indeed. LEsperance continues the visual trip as one fades further, deeper, thicker, into a subcontinental jungle river fog (Coffin creates a rich mosaic via kalimba, flute, and tlapitzalli before bringing out his tenor sax and flute, while Burbridge lays down a flute solo of his own to grand effect).
A hidden track at journeys end, Emma Ya, provides another unique adventure as Coffin manages to blend reggae, jazz, ambience, and a cool little shuffle step into a region of calypso-ska that one hasnt heard too often. Whereas a few tunes on his latest work beget experiences one has found elsewhere in the past (Sweet Magnolias is a bit slow and studied for my taste), or just dont hold up to the other tracks, the overall theme strikes home in a positive way. Coffin has composed a rather tasty album where he and his band mates can bend minds without trotting out the same old goods. Au contraire, Mutopia leaves you wanting a bit more from that side of the jazz menu.

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