With a gentle rhythm behind the drums to guide their ethereal glow, the keys in “Driftwood” are rivaled only by the melodic band that occasionally accents the melodic ribbonry it so beautifully unleashes. The slow-churning ascent we find in this track isn’t all that different from the one that gives life to the opening cut in Dan Engelhardt’s Here at Last LP (on which they can both be heard), although between the two of them, I think that it’s easy to distinguish the non-linguistic narratives his band is trying to convey to us in each of their groove-laden harmonies).
Engelhardt is bursting at the seams with catharsis in “Clairvoyant,” experimenting with the excesses of a bygone age – to the tune of marvelous results, I might add – in “My Mothers’ Death,” exploring his softer side in “Sienna’s Waltz” and marrying conservative melodies with a bombastic percussive undertow in “A Spirited Life,” but no matter where we turn in his new album, there’s scarcely a moment where we aren’t thrust to the edge of our seats in anticipation of whatever charming musical might could be waiting around the next turn.
In this record, Dan Engelhardt reminds us that, in order to make compelling jazz in this modern age, a group of players have to be willing to constantly adhere to the principles that gave their genre its start by breaking the basic rules of music itself (much as the legendary Miles Davis once did). From a melodic perspective, “Hymn to Florencia” and “Jackie” are two of the most stimulating compositions I’ve listened to on an indie jazz LP this autumn, but they’re by no means any more powerful in presence than “Driftwood” or the violent “My Mothers’ Death” is. The opening track leans on hypnotic elements tethered to an emerging surrealism movement in the United States, while “Clairvoyant” touches on more of an experimental theme that I would love for this band and its leader to dive into just a bit more in the future. The entirety of Here at Last could be described as existing to the left of many mainstream jazz releases this year, but as I see it, this makes it stand out all the more beside its streamlined peers on either side of the dial right now.
I wasn’t familiar with Dan Engelhardt before getting introduced to his sound via Here at Last, but I’m definitely eager to hear more music from his camp after getting lost in the oasis of jazz rhythm and tonality that this album has to share. There’s a lot of potential in this gifted player that could be shaped in a litany of different ways, and considering the natural chemistry that he has with the medium, I think we’re going to experience some amazing music from his sessions together as he looks to find some footing in the underground hierarchy. I’ll be paying attention to his professional output from now forward, and judging from the reception this LP is receiving, it looks like I won’t be the only fan – or critic – doing so.