by Jeff Becker
Justin Piper is a multi-faceted artist; an educator, composer, and performer who resides in Boston Massachusetts. Piper is the musical director for the band Ripcord, and leads his own trio that performs improvisation based music that feature his own compositions. Piper’s philosophy as a teacher and educator is, “to instill his students with the joy of playing music while also nurturing an interest in the theoretical and foundational aspects of music.”
Avant Funk is Piper’s latest recorded endeavor, it combines the melody and harmony of modern jazz and the slick syncopation of funk, with Justin Piper’s musical energy driving each composition throughout the album. Piper’s innovative musical vocabulary is always pushing the harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic boundaries, while keeping a groove.
Sometimes it is nice when a multi-instrumentalist, such as Piper, takes the next step and forms a project to create an avenue that documents and explores their unique approach to each instrument and opens the world of personal possibilities of expression. The music takes on a richer appeal in doing so. With Piper, Avant Funk finds him performing on guitar, bass, Rhodes and programming. Drummer Tom Garrington joins Piper on the project and the two combine their formidable talents in a bristling set of original music penned by Piper. We hear their subtlety and breadth as players as well, their distinct conversations between each other are breathtaking. Whether naturally creating, or drawing on and reinterpreting melodic fragments taken from the inspiration from each other, they arrive at a depth and beauty as a duet that defies easy categorization. The two build melodic and harmonic statements based in modern jazz with the infectious syncopation of funk, to create a musical energy that is sure to please a wide base of music lovers.
“I Fall Down” starts the musical journey with Piper’s warmly distorted guitar. Piper and Garrington set up a feel the ‘feels’ good right away. The chemistry of this duet is undeniable. The music takes its time to develop, but Piper naturally balances melodic figures with more chordal and groove moments. Piper’s solo is excellent. Seamlessly combining techniques of rock guitar to the jazz idiom and language.
A funky repetitive figure starts, “Buzz Book,” and Piper’s melodic writing really shines on the melody of this one. The intricate melody gives way to Piper’s quick lines in his solo. Accented with a wah-wah pedal effect, Piper builds his solo to an interesting harmonized guitar figure that serves as an excellent climax for the piece and a convincing ending statement to this groove based selection.
“Rolling Blue Hill,” features a strong melodic statement that is built upon a repetitive melodic core; here the piece takes on another character with the addition of an acoustic guitar being strummed. Piper starts the compositions with the melodic idea and remains with it, carrying it through multiple developments, his anchoring of the basslines keep the track in focus, while Garrington’s drums give energy and add in, filling out the space in an inimitable way that gives movement without getting in the way.
“Big Rock,” given away by the title, is immediately rock-driven, a clear and singable piece that finds the guitarist outing all the hip warm and harmonically savvy lines in a perceptive rock/jazz approach, which highlights how he can enfold rock and jazz sensibilities into one.
“Two Whee’s” is a tune that is direct and instantly appealing, with Piper handling the legato melody as the rhythm section relaxes into a steady rock-like feel. The selection develops into a capricious vamp that reflects Piper’s agile guitar playing and love of melodies that develop over time and with subtle variations in orchestration and melodic twists. That process of expansion continues during Piper’s colorful solo; Piper’s flurries of notes form a swirling counterpoint with a repeating background figure.
Piper’s lyricism and legato expression is again on full display on the tracks “Somnambulist” and “Tonic Immobility.” As with “Two Whee’s,” Piper’s melodicism on “Somnambulist” and “Tonic Immobility” grows out of the simplest of ideas, but he organically develops his lines into complex flowing statements that take the listener on a satisfying adventure that is full of surprises, deeply rooted in logic and always wrought with groove. Piper’s playing is able to go in and out of chords, while still conveying the grooves and textures, but his phrases always feels whole and connected. Even though Piper is a multi-instrumentalist on the project, his playing has the energy and urgency of an in the moment performance, with no hint of staleness or preconceived ideas.
In conclusion, I really enjoy the variety of what this duet can do, the music invites one to go on an adventure of styles and textures and that is what makes this duet special, it is their ability to play so many different kinds of styles and still sound like a cohesive “band.”
An excellent fusionistic rock journey Avant Funk packs a punch, and shows the ability and diversity two players can create when groove, energy and urgency are the main ingredient – sprinkled with stainless steel agility and technique this groovin’ offering stands up to any performance test with road worthy fuel injection. Highly Recommended.