In November Sunlight

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The formidable three-man outfit Soko -- featuring Michael Sokolowski (keyboards/violin), Houston Ross (bass), and John Gilmore (drums) -- marry picturesque melodies to equally considerable instrumental interaction on their debut, In November Sunlight (2000). They are joined by Dave Matthews Band associates Leroi Moore (sax), Tim Reynolds (guitar), and Matthews himself (vocals). Both he and Reynolds contribute to one of the album's most exciting pieces, the syncopated post-bop "Jiriki." The trio's exceptional musicianship incorporates a broad spectrum of moods and spaces ranging from the organic lyricism and languid flow of the opener, "Half Sleep (The River Dreams)," to the buoyant embrace of "Coast to Coast." The latter is prominent as the infectious tune falls somewhere between the seemingly incongruous approaches of Vince Guaraldi and David Sanborn. Soko pull together those influences to create a fresh visage of their own, deeply rooted in the Ross/Gilmore rhythm section. "Your Steps Alone" -- dedicated to Jerry Garcia -- is a laid-back groove spirited by Moore's fluid leads and Sokolowski's assertive piano fills. "In November Sunlight" is a beaming and affective work couriered by memorably acquiescent lines. They dance around Gilmore's solid yet liberating and propulsive timekeeping as Moore trades light and affable lines with Sokolowski. Gilmore likewise radiates precision, gracefully riding the cymbals for maximum effect. The lethargic "Energy Change" allows the combo to extend its impressive improvisational skills, especially Ross, whose nimble bass glides effortlessly over the entrancing backdrop. Concluding In November Sunlight is the soulful and pensive "Lullaby for E," offering a final cosy interlude that all too quickly dissolves into a refined aural embrace. Although fans of Dave Mathews' jam band excursions might not completely connect with Soko, smooth and contemporary jazz enthusiasts are encouraged to give this release a spin.

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