Jeff Coffin Mu'tet

Into the Air

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Best known for his many years as a prominent sideman for Bela Fleck & the Flecktones (1997-2008) and the Dave Matthews Band (2008 and counting), versatile saxophonist Jeff Coffin has had a powerful outlet for his own expansive and evolving view of the possibilities of contemporary jazz. Over the course of several well-received albums since 2001, Jeff Coffin's Mu'tet have lived up to the reasoning behind the band's name -- which reflects his philosophy that music must change and mutate in order to stay meaningful and relevant. He and his ensemble -- Jeff Sipe (drums, percussion), Kofi Burbridge (piano, keys, flute), Bill Fanning (trumpet), and Felix Pastorius (electric bass) throw some whimsical jazz glitter into the air to create an engaging set that explores many styles and moods. The simmering opener "A Half Sleep" is driven by a seductive duality between Coffin and Fanning (before they branch out and explode into a sizzling, emotional conversation) and Burbridge's glistening Rhodes. "U Don't Say" is all sly bassline cool from co-writer Pastorius, more old-school cool via Rhodes and Hammond B-3, and a thoughtful approach to that melodic horn duality. While those elements are the guiding collaborative force throughout the jazz fusion-meets-retro-soul travels -- the Mu'tet is joined on two key tracks by electric guitarist Lionel Loueke. A few minutes into the trippy bounce of "Lucky 13" -- led by Burbridge's swirl of spaced-out keyboards, including the clavinet -- Loueke chimes in with a crisp electric guitar and vocal passage reminiscent of George Benson. His subtle but rich vocalizations continue throughout. Loueke is more than a casual guest of the Mu'tet, however, so much so that Coffin and Pastorius named their lighthearted tenor, soprano-and-trumpet-driven flight of fancy "Loueke"; the guitarist adds his vocal grace and fiery, high-end guitar notes to a mix that includes a charming flute run by Burbridge. Assuming Coffin gets more time off from his "day job" with Matthews, it's exciting to think just where he and his band of mutating masters will journey next.

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