Seattle Jazz Collective High Pulp Make Their ANTI Records Debut with “Pursuit of Ends” (ALBUM REVIEW)

Put together a band of diverse and disparate backgrounds that combine jazz, punk rock, hip-hop, shoegaze, and electronica and you have the collective known as High Pulp. Were it not for the headline, you might first guess the London scene but the group hails from Seattle. Mostly they are DIYers, not formally trained musicians, who have big ears and a fascination with enough forms of music to create a singular concoction of dreamy fare. The result is enough to attract some of the best contemporary musicians in jazz as guests including Jaleel Shaw (Nate Smith & Kinfolk, Roy Haynes, Christian McBride), Brandee Younger (Ravi Coltrane, The Roots), trumpeter Theo Croker (Dee Dee Bridgewater), and keyboardist Jacob Mann (Rufus Wainwright, Louis Cole). This is the band’s debut for ANTI, home to a diverse set of artists ranging from like-minded units such as Alfa Mist and Galactic to those such as Ben Harper and Mavis Staples. High Pulp delivers its brand of experimental and explorative jazz on Pursuit of Ends.

As alluded to, the core five band members draw on a variety of influences. Keyboardist Antoine Martel brings a cinematic bent, inspired by all things synthesized – film scores and ethereal soundscapes.  Fellow keyboardist Rob Homan can best be described as a fanatical improviser while alto saxophonist Andrew Morrill is as forward-thinking as any of them. Tenor saxophonist and multi-reedist Victory Nguyen is steeped in the spiritual sounds of Pharoah Sanders while bassist Scott Rixon hails from the metal and hard rock conventions and drummer Bobby Granfelt, the guiding light for the project, favors bebop and hip-hop. Additional personnel grace certain tracks. They are Alex Dugdale (tenor sax, bass clarinet), trombonists Greg Kramer, Isaac Poole, and Jerome Smith; with guitarist Gehrig Uhles. Consider that as many as nine musicians are playing on “All Roads Lead to Los Angeles” and “A Ring On Each Finger.”

High Pulp runs the gamut – strains of vintage fusion with Weather Report’s ethereal side but the dual keyboards and multiple synths bring them into the realm of more contemporary fusion acts such as UK bands The Comet Is Coming and Alfa Mist, with cinematic elements of Slowly Moving Camera and Mark Lockheart’s Dreamers. In the end, though, this seems more coincidental than imitative. Some pieces have aspects of all these reference points. Consider their history for just a minute. Their full-length debut, Bad Juice, was with the UK-based King Underground label, and their three-volume set of EPs entitled Mutual Attraction reimagined the work of Sun Ra, Cortex, and Frank Ocean, among others.

The opener, “Ceremony” leans in the cinematic direction, with expansive soundscapes over unconventional time signatures that deliver an undulating ebb and flow that brings the listener to both blissful and unsettling places. “All Roads Lead to Los Angeles” goes decidedly frenetic in its breakbeats and pulsating horns, as if lining a busy intersection awaiting the arrival of an important figure. That would be guest altoist Jaleel Shaw who struts in blowing with abandon. This unbridled energy dissipates into a hazy, dreamy state on “Blaming Mercury” and brightens just slightly in the keyboard/synth centric industrial electronica of “Window To A Shimmering World.” The spacious “Chemical X,” underpinned with hip-hop beats flows like familiar soundscapes of Jonny Greenwood in the film Power of the Dog, with soaring guitar lines wrapped in lush keyboards and synths. 

The layered effect of an 11-part wind, horn, and piano chorale features such instruments as bass clarinet, two trombones, and a tuba in the dreamy “A Ring On Each Finger,” which, as much as any, is a study in restraint as it seems that one of several instruments just wants to break through the cloud of sound like a burst of sunlight, but instead remains put. Guest Jacob Mann takes the lead synthesizer solo in the bubbly “Kamishinjo” while the guest free “Inner Crooner” is a brief piece featuring the saxophonists Morrill and Nguyen.  The distinctive sound of Brandee Younger’s harp sets the tone for the wave-like, dizzying psychedelic “Wax Hands.”  Granfelt’s rumbling drum intro for “You’ve Got to Pull It Up From the Ground” presages a more adventurous ride with fiery trumpeter Theo Croker joining the saxophonists but in the end, that ride stays on the smooth, not the bumpy side.

Granfelt put it well when he stated that their sound leaned more toward a synthesis than fusion. There are few solos in this largely ensemble-driven, dreamy, go-ahead-and-get-lost-in music.  The aggressive, hard-charging moments are few as the lush, layered soundscapes prevail. 

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