Sunday, August 23, 2015

Rick And The All-Stars: “The Invisible Session” (2015) CD Review

The Stone Hill All-Stars continue to surprise and impress me. Earlier this year they released Away, one of my favorite CDs so far of 2015, and one which they recorded in a single day. Now they’ve collaborated with jazz guitarist Rick Pressler on a new project, Rick And The All-Stars, and the debut album, The Invisible Session, was likewise recorded in a single day. The Invisible Session was recorded on July 3, 2015 at Invisible Sound Studios in Baltimore, and was largely improvised (with one or two exceptions), with no second takes or overdubs. As a result, the album has a loose and exciting feel, and includes bits of studio banter at the beginning or end of several tracks. These are instrumental tracks, with no composition titles. When asked about the decision to leave the tracks untitled, Paul Margolis told me, “It just seemed odd to go back to the results of this spontaneous event and assign names to the tracks.” So the CD’s eight tracks are simply referred to by number (though, interestingly, the tracks do have titles on the CD Baby site and Amazon, but those titles are not the official titles). The lack of song titles also gives The Invisible Session’s title another meaning. By the way, Paul Margolis and Rick Pressler had worked together before, on projects like 32 Lions and The Bongo Division. The Invisible Session was mixed and mastered by Dave Nachodsky.

The first track begins loosely with bass, and then the other instruments quickly come in, trying things, like getting to know each other. It is Dan Naiman on saxophone who first really announces himself in a lead spot, and then John Shock finds a good groove on keys, and that’s when the song seems to really get its footing (you can hear someone exclaim “Yeah” in the background when John starts that groove). The tune definitely retains its loose, cool vibe throughout, and there’s a bit of banter at the end of the track. And then the second track begins with some banter: “What was that rhythm, Hoppy, because I wasn’t playing it?” Clearly these guys are having a good time, and that’s reflected in the wild and delightful second track. Hoppy Hopkins gives us a great and unusual groove on drums. The only problem is that this track is over way too soon.

The third track is one of my favorites. It has a kind of funky thing happening. Fans of Phish are going to love this track. Just imagine if Phish had a saxophone, as occasionally they have had (“What is a band without a saxophone?”). I totally dig Paul Margolis’ work on bass here. And Rick Pressler does some seriously interesting and cool stuff on guitar. The whole band just has everything going just about exactly right. This tune will get you moving, get you smiling. “Great moments there,” someone comments at the end. Yeah, every moment of this track.

There is a bit of goofing around at the start of the fourth track, giving us the feel of being in a rehearsal space with the band. But then the tune itself is pretty tight at times, with a good, full sound. The fifth track also begins with a bit of banter, and then the bass leads the band into a cool, somewhat mellow groove. And I love the way it builds from there, making this another of the disc’s highlights. This track has a fairly steady feel, yet goes in some interesting directions.

It is followed by a bluesy tune, which is one of the two tracks that was conceived of earlier, this one by Paul Margolis. (The other is the eighth track.) Interestingly, it is only on these two tracks that Paul Margolis plays guitar and Dan Naiman picks up the bass. So there is no saxophone here. But there is plenty of nice guitar work. The eighth track is another of my favorites. This is the one that was written by Rick Pressler ahead of time, and it has such a great vibe. I love music that transports me to some other land, time, realm, and this track certainly takes me outside of myself, while simultaneously putting a smile on my face. I love this track.

The Invisible Session was released on July 28, 2015. The band plans to record a second album next year.

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