by Sascha Feinstein, Jazziz
This debut by Josh Shpak, a trumpet and flugelhorn player who’s in his early 20s, seems longer than 33 minutes. Layered and evocative, Shpak’s arrangements of these six originals – five of them his own – guide his ensemble across varied terrain; this is anything but a classic blowing session. With aplomb, he soars through accompaniment that ranges from heavy, electronic throbbing to impressionistic backgrounds, and the unexpected transitions within each tune creates a unique journey for the listener. A protege of the late Clark Terry, Shpak plays with warmth and lyricism, but group expression overshadows any specific characteristics of his style; ultimately, the variety of orchestral settings highlights his significant harmonic explorations more than his tasteful solos.
This is a classy album, from the surrealist cover art by Leigh J. McCloskey to the LP-looking disc, complete with ridged, vinyl grooves. Taken together – surrealism united with history – they reflect Shpak’s intention to respect his elders while moving in his own youthful direction. Yes, some will notice similarities to Herbie Hancock or Pat Metheny, but there’s nothing slavishly imitative about these cuts. Part of that has to do with instrumentation: Shpak comfortably unites acoustic jazz instruments with electronics (guitars, Minimoog synth bass). He also softens the environment with a string quintet, as well as Simon Moullier on vibraphone and, truly enhancing two of the numbers, Roni Eytan on harmonica. He thinks and listen deeply. Centered and mature, this is a fine first effort by a horn player who fully identifies with the 21st century.