Homing - A Feeling in Nine Parts is the latest collection of highly appealing, completely instrumental compositions of indeterminate genre from J. A. Granelli and Mr. Lucky. Despite a complete turnover in personnel, Homing keeps alive the low-down, slow-burn, noirish atmosphere of the band’s previous releases. The music here is instrumental and jazzy, but it is so much more than jazzy instrumental music. It’s hard to sum it up in a few words, but this is not your normal ‘groove jazz’ or ‘fusion’ CD, and Granelli’s compositions are much more about subtlety, soul, and atmosphere than they are about hot solos or super-funky rhythm section shenanigans. It’s almost like he’s created a cinema for the ears. That said, there are some great solos here (especially by Shepik) and great gobs of down-home funkiness. One thing all of Granelli’s pieces have in common is that none of them seem to go where you think they’ll go after the first few bars.
The band is loaded top-to-bottom with NYC’s best and brightest: drummer Mike Sarin, guitarist Brad Shepik, and keyboardist Nate Shaw have led or co-led their own groups and worked with the likes of Dave Douglas, Thomas Chapin, Joey Baron, Ralph Alessi, Jenny Scheinman, and Myra Melford. Though from the sound of Homing, each must have sat around listening to Booker T and the MGs in-between the avant garde jazz gigs. I am especially enamored of Nate Shaw’s highly skilled use of old-school keyboards such as the Hammond B-3 organ and the Fender Rhodes electric piano (the latter played with really cool effects like fuzz, wah-wah, etc.). The presence of pedal steel guitarist Gerald Menke on four of the 9 tracks adds a truly new dimension to the band’s sound. The addition of another chordal instrument to the band’s basic lineup of guitar / organ / bass / drums is handled with amazing restraint and sensitivity. Keyboardist Nate Shaw and guitarist Brad Shepik leave more than enough space in these tunes for Menke to make a significant contribution.
The results are truly memorable - my favorite being the incredible soaring anthem "Hope for Junior" in which Mr. Lucky approximates a collaboration between Television, The Band, and Pink Floyd (circa "Ummagumma"). I get chills everytime I listen to Shaw’s Hammond B-3 wringing every drop of emotion from Granelli’s absolutely lacerating melody while Shepik takes a chain saw to an alien beehive, and Menke comments using metallic plinks and plings which ride the resulting waves of confusion. However, ballads and slow- to moderate-tempo pieces dominate "Homing". "Happy Pt. 3 (Lana)" and "My True Love" are lush, slow-burners with really tender melodies and ringing solos from Shepik and Menke. "Fortunate Son" has a brilliant, emotive Shepik solo, though the feel of the tune is spacy, abstract jazz - perhaps a bit like something the Bill Frisell Band could have done back when they were on ECM. "Torso" starts with a very chill vibe thanks to Shaw’s nimble Rhodes work, and slowly coalesces and accelerates to become something quite different. "Sum Song" is languid and liquid, like jazz in heavy syrup. Then there’s "Lazy Eye" which is slow, but jazzy and dark like the soundtrack to a Jarmusch movie. The exceptions are, well, exceptional. "Long Hair" is a sassy, odd-metered second line strut. "The Row Boat Stomp" is a twisting jazzy piece that comes the closest what we would have called ‘jazz-rock’ back in ’72.
Despite what I just said, Mr. Lucky is not Granelli’s attempt to recreate the music of the 70s. Instead, he is using the funky, expressive possibilities of these vintage instruments to evoke a sense of weight and permanence - something that music needs in our increasingly fast-moving, cyber-throwaway world. This CD has staying power - not because of the players or instruments they use - but because Granelli and his band understand music, its power, and its history. To me, Homing - A Feeling in Ninevery-timee Parts is a not just another great CD - it’s a reminder of what music can be if you forget about what you think music should be. Highly recommended.