When people speak of New York City's downtown Manhattan/Brooklyn experimental jazz scene, the word "experimental" often means avant-garde. But it's important to remember that there are varying degrees of avant-garde when it comes to experimental jazz. If an improviser is described as experimental, it doesn't necessarily mean that he/she is a free jazz firebrand like Ivo Perelman, Cecil Taylor, or Charles Gayle. Some experimental jazz coming out of the Big Apple is only mildly avant-garde, and that is clearly the case with Out to Lunch. The material on Melvin's Rockpile is perhaps best described as electric post-bop meets jazz-funk meets the mildly avant-garde; these N.Y.C. residents have an inside/outside perspective, but inside playing prevails at least 85 percent of the time on this 2009 recording. Eric Dolphy has been cited as one of the group's influences, and that makes sense because even though the late post-bop saxophonist sometimes ventured into the avant-garde, he ventured into the mildly avant-garde -- and Dolphy wasn't nearly as radical as Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler. Melvin's Rockpile, similarly, is slightly left of center but not far to the left. Funk is a huge influence on this 2009 release, which has a strong groove factor. However, Out to Lunch are definitely to the left of, say, the Crusaders, David Sanborn, or Charles Earland -- although they obviously aren't playing the sort of dissonant free funk that Jamaaladeen Tacuma, James Blood Ulmer, and Coleman's Prime Time are known for. The influences on this 39-minute CD are diverse, ranging from Dolphy and John Coltrane to electric Miles Davis to Medeski, Martin & Wood to James Brown (anyone playing anything that is even remotely funk-related has been either directly or indirectly affected by the Godfather of Soul in some respect). Listeners searching for something that is a bit left of center but not too left of center should have an easy time getting into Melvin's Rockpile.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson