CD Review by Tree Palmedo
Portlanders have probably seen Chance Hayden around, either playing jazz at local restaurants or accompanying funk-leaning acts like Farnell Newton, Andy Stokes, and recent breakout star Jarrod Lawson. But in recent years the guitarist-composer has been ramping up his solo output, and his new album, Grab & Go (Atlanta Records), is his most confident effort yet. As its title suggests, the record “grabs” the sounds of the Meters, 1970s Stax Records, and 1960s soul-jazz and pulls them into the 21st century with an adventurous, no-holds-barred sensibility.
The album opens with the surprising, Weather Report-esque harmony of “Squeeze Tight,” although the sonic palette sounds nothing like that iconic fusion band. With crunchy B-3 organ and the edgy twang of Hayden’s guitar, the track encapsulates the mingling of classic sounds and modern sensibilities that defines the album. And when the improvising begins, the players inflect the music with both bluesy grit and modern-jazz finesse.
The only two musicians who appear on every track are Hayden and organist/pianist Michael Elson, who adds grit and sparkle in equal measure. On tracks like the twisted boogaloo “Double Oven,” Elson unleashes his solo chops with soulful, virtuosic, and entertaining results. The rest of the band rotates in and out, but every lineup sounds crisp and interactive, with the James Brown-esque “Papa’s Shiny Shoes” serving equally as a feature for Hayden’s wah-pedaled shredding and drummer Tyrone Hendrix’s tight interplay with bassist JP Downer.
The lead single and centerpiece of the record is “The Comedown,” a track co-written and sung by vocalist Sarah Clarke. A mid-tempo neo-soul tune with Robert Glasper-esque chords and an eminently funky chorus, the track builds slowly and carefully. Clarke’s vocals serve the song perfectly without stealing the show, delivering the lyric with attitude and passion before making way for an energetic outro bolstered by Alex Milsted’s soaring synth solo.
A project that serves both casual listening and careful inspection, Grab & Go brings together a strong crew of musicians for a multi-layered listening experience that is also a lot of fun.