Chris Lightcap's Hits Jazz-Crossover Sweet Spot With 'Deluxe'

Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth

Deluxe (Clean Feed)

Don't let the vintage ride on the cover and the retro-vibe title mislead you into thinking this is just another jazz disc on which younger players try to relive/revive some Golden Age. Deluxe is very much Jazz 2010 in the best possible way. And if the repeated use of the word "jazz" is making you feel like this is not for you regardless, keep reading.

By design or by default, bassist/composer Chris Lightcap's latest release as a leader falls right into the middle of a rich patch of recent recordings that are identifiably jazz in practice and attitude but that don't hold themselves at arm's length from more structured composition, straight-up pop-melody appeal, or even, for lack of a better term, an indie-rock aesthetic. Such distinctly disparate albums as Darcy James Argue's big-band Infernal Machines, Tyshawn Sorey's skeletal sketch Koan, and sideman-to-the-alt-gods Nels Cline's new trio set Initiate offer brilliant music and excellent crossover portals for the jazz-curious, and nowhere more so than on Deluxe. Opener "Platform" rides on keyboardist Craig Taborn's slippery electric piano groove as Lightcap and drummer Gerald Cleaver stoke the surging rhythms, goading tenor saxophonists Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek and alto saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo. But on "Silvertone," Cleaver drops into a languid pop backbeat as the horns stretch out on a long, richly harmonized melody line that builds to a bittersweet refrain and poignant horn solos. It's the ballad performance of the year so far, with no lyrics or vocals to be found.

That singing quality holds throughout Deluxe, though Lightcap and company aren't making the smooth stuff. The fleet, rippling "Ting" features burnished horn lines but also a vigorous solo by D'Angelo that takes a hard left out of polite harmony; likewise "Two-Face" dissolves into some knotty blowing and a Cecil Taylor-like turn from Taborn. Closer "Fuzz" even coats the leader's lines in a light layer of the title effect, but this is not some gimmicky pop-hybrid. It doesn't need to be—indelible melodies, adroit rhythms, and superb playing speak for themselves. In short, don't buy it because it's crossover-friendly. Buy it because it's great.