Bass trumpeter Ryan Shultz's debut as a leader, Hair Dryers
, is an enjoyable look back at the jazz-fusion movement. A heavily electrified atmosphere envelops the songs that the group interprets with a deft balance of elegance and an organic vigor. Shultz, who penned most of the music, wields his instrument with remarkable agility and coaxes out of it a sinewy sound with an understated passion. The soulful title track, reminiscent of 1970s film themes, is structured around funk-infused vamps. Shultz's muted horn growls softly as it embellishes the melody with a dramatic flair. Keyboardist Karl Montzka punctuates the tune with acerbic clusters of notes while the band, anchored by bassist Larry Cohut's swaggering strings, pulsates to the beat of dual percussionists Tom Hipskind and Paul Mutzabaugh.
In contrast, the more ethereal "Outside Looking In--Still Outside" vaguely influenced by trumpeter Miles Davis's "In A Silent Way," is hypnotic and buoyant. Shultz takes one of the few truly expansive and complex solos meandering far from the main motif with poetic flair. Guitarist Chris Siebold's slow, muscular lines build a haunting extemporization that soars over the rhythm section in otherworldly phrases. None of the eight Shultz compositions are particularly memorable in and of themselves but they contain enough variety to maintain interest. The effervescent "Joe's Time," for instance, has some Brazilian spice while Shultz's clean, buttery horn has hints of Eastern lyricism on "All Things Equal."
The quintet's cohesiveness is best demonstrated on one of the two non-Shultz pieces, "Scooter." Shultz's ardent and stimulating conversation with Siebold and Montzka crackles with spontaneous energy while Hipskind and Cohut lay down a rocking groove. True, there is nothing exceptionally innovative on this otherwise charming album and it is short on improvisational rigor. The intrigue-laden ambience, the dynamic performances and the seamless camaraderie, however, make for an entertaining listening experience.