A Few Empty Chairs

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A Few Empty Chairs does not stray away from the path laid down on Conjoint's two previous releases. Then again, with only three albums in a decade, one cannot accuse the group of overusing its recipe. Once more, the unusual appeal of the quartet relies in the subtle interplay between jazz and electronica. On first listen, what one notices is the soulful vibraphone playing of legend Karl Berger and the velvety jazz guitar of Gunter "Ruit" Kraus. Further, more attentive listens reveal all the electronic work Jamie Hodge and David Moufang cleverly try to hide: the programmed drums, the real-time sampling of both vibes and guitar, the synth bass. The first track, "Blue & White," mimics a vibes-led acoustic jazz quartet, but, as the album progresses, electronics gradually step out of the shadows and assume their rightful place. It begins with a Moog-style synthesizer in "Seven Quarters," the second piece. By "Ice Tango," digital textures affirm themselves. By "Frentic," drum programming and keyboards are going nuts. Finally, in the last three tracks, the quartet has truly become an electro-acoustic unit, and a rather free-form one at that. This progression from lounge jazz to electro-lounge jazz to experimental electro-jazz is the backbone of the album. Without that, A Few Empty Chairs would be a long, quickly tiresome 67-minute affair. Instead, these subtle changes tend to keep you interested. This is not an overtly engaging album -- you won't be sitting on the edge of your seat for a full hour. However, even if it plays in the background, A Few Empty Chairs will keep bringing itself to your attention. [Initial copies of A Few Empty Chairs included Conjoint's debut album as a bonus CD.]

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