On 2012's outstanding Soul, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt showcased the fruit of his ensemble's six-plus years working together, gelling into a seamlessly cohesive, intuitive unit who knew how to push one another in the studio as well as on the bandstand. But all things change. On Water and Earth, Pelt's fourth date on HighNote, he showcases an entirely different band, playing a very different music. The lineup features seasoned veterans including bassist Burniss Earl Travis and percussionist Jeffrey Haynes, alongside somewhat younger players such as pianist David Bryant, saxophonist Roxy Cross, and drummer Dana Hawkins. The music on Water and Earth is a study in contrasts, using post-bop and circular rhythms together, adding in electric elements and more open spaces. Opener "Reimagine the World" is a laid-back, shuffling groove fueled mainly by Pelt's limpid horn and Bryant's tight chord voicings, before Angela Roberts and Fabiana Masili add their chorus of wordless voices which surprise near the exit. "Mystique" is a loosely composed melody offered by Cross' soprano atop Hawkins and Haynes before being joined by Travis, Bryant's Rhodes, and Pelt pushing over the top. The intro to "Boom Bishop" is all percussive fire with an incendiary, furious head shared by Pelt and Cross" tenor. She solos first, double-timed by Hawkins and Haynes offering a fluid series of breaks and driving accents. Pelt follows using a wah-wah pedal in his own solo. Bryant's punchy Rhodes and Travis' acoustic and electric bass set up a circular rhythmic interplay that locks the tune in. Other than on the lovely, straight-ahead ballad "Meditations on a Conversation We Had," Pelt uses effects on all following tracks. His attempt at a spacy R&B on "Stay," with Ra-Ra Valverde on vocals, simply doesn't work. "Pieces of a Dream" is a knottier post-bop tune, albeit one played with electric instruments, and it features excellent solo work by Bryant. In addition, the interplay between Travis, Hawkins, and Haynes is killer. The closer "Butterfly Dreams" is a floating ballad and among the most beautiful tunes on the set, with lovely restrained work from Pelt and Bryant, as well as gorgeous layers of brushed cymbals. On Water and Earth, the trumpeter is surely reaching for something new. At its best it is compelling, noteworthy; elsewhere, his search proves mercurial and elusive.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek