Darren Barrett’s dB-ish – The Opener (self-released)
Darren Barrett’s latest collection of original tunes contributes to the increasingly fertile intersection of contemporary jazz with hip-hop and electronic music. On The Opener, the trumpeter invites guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Nir Felder, who play on a track apiece, to help his octet realize an array of propulsive yet atmospheric groove-based compositions.
Rather than rendering hip-hop beats in the medium of a standard jazz ensemble — like, say the Vijay Iyer Trio — Barrett employs an eclectic sonic palette that pairs traditional acoustic instruments with digital effects and the occasional sample. Artists including his fellow trumpeters Marquis Hill and Christian Scott have explored a similar approach to hip-hop fusion, but Barrett’s work is distinctive for its playful attitude.
The title track kicks off the record with a fragmented bebop theme that heralds a series of careening solos, which unfurl across a spacious texture built from sparse drums and the warm glow of a synthesizer. Rosenwinkel matches the bandleader’s ragged, dense gestures with slippery melodies that color the atmosphere in a kaleidoscopic stream of oblique but satisfying harmonies. In contrast, Felder utilizes a frenetic, percussive style on “To Conversate,” his swirls and plunges spiked with echoey sci-fi effects.
The strikingly digital drones that introduce and underscore tracks such as “Beauty on Beauty,” “Throughout” and “Different” stick out in juxtaposition to the acoustic timbres of piano and double bass. But each musician — Barrett in particular — projects a personality strong enough to override any sense of incongruity. In light of the band’s consistent, emotionally true delivery, the incorporation of effects comes off as earnest rather than gimmicky.
Though some tracks lack a strong dynamic arc, sounding more like action-packed soundscapes than songs motivated by a broader trajectory, the quality of musicianship makes each second worthy of close listening. All told, The Opener is exhilarating, quirky and unpretentious.
— Asher Wolf