by Jeff Becker
Justin Piper is a multi-faceted artist; an educator, composer,
and performer who resides in Boston Massachusetts. Piper is the musical
director for the band Ripcord, and leads his own trio that performs
improvisation based music that feature his own compositions. Piper’s philosophy
as a teacher and educator is, “to instill his students with the joy of playing
music while also nurturing an interest in the theoretical and foundational
aspects of music.”
Avant Funk is Piper’s latest recorded endeavor, it combines the
melody and harmony of modern jazz and the slick syncopation of funk, with
Justin Piper’s musical energy driving each composition throughout the album.
Piper’s innovative musical vocabulary is always pushing the harmonic, rhythmic,
and melodic boundaries, while keeping a groove.
Sometimes it is nice when a multi-instrumentalist, such as
Piper, takes the next step and forms a project to create an avenue that
documents and explores their unique approach to each instrument and opens the
world of personal possibilities of expression. The music takes on a richer
appeal in doing so. With Piper, Avant Funk finds him performing on
guitar, bass, Rhodes and programming. Drummer Tom Garrington joins Piper on the
project and the two combine their formidable talents in a bristling set of
original music penned by Piper. We hear their subtlety and breadth as players
as well, their distinct conversations between each other are breathtaking.
Whether naturally creating, or drawing on and reinterpreting melodic fragments
taken from the inspiration from each other, they arrive at a depth and beauty
as a duet that defies easy categorization.
The two build melodic and harmonic statements based in modern jazz with
the infectious syncopation of funk, to create a musical energy that is sure to
please a wide base of music lovers.
“I Fall Down” starts the musical journey with Piper’s warmly
distorted guitar. Piper and Garrington set up a feel the ‘feels’ good right
away. The chemistry of this duet is undeniable. The music takes its time to
develop, but Piper naturally balances melodic figures with more chordal and
groove moments. Piper’s solo is excellent.
Seamlessly combining techniques of rock guitar to the jazz idiom and
A funky repetitive figure starts, “Buzz Book,” and Piper’s
melodic writing really shines on the melody of this one. The intricate melody
gives way to Piper’s quick lines in his solo.
Accented with a wah-wah pedal effect, Piper builds his solo to an
interesting harmonized guitar figure that serves as an excellent climax for the
piece and a convincing ending statement to this groove based selection.
“Rolling Blue Hill,” features a strong melodic statement
that is built upon a repetitive melodic core; here the piece takes on another
character with the addition of an acoustic guitar being strummed. Piper starts
the compositions with the melodic idea and remains with it, carrying it through
multiple developments, his anchoring of the basslines keep the track in focus,
while Garrington’s drums give energy and add in, filling out the space in an inimitable
way that gives movement without getting in the way.
“Big Rock,” given away by the title, is immediately rock-driven,
a clear and singable piece that finds the guitarist outing all the hip warm and
harmonically savvy lines in a perceptive rock/jazz approach, which highlights
how he can enfold rock and jazz sensibilities into one.
“Two Whee’s” is a tune that is direct and instantly
appealing, with Piper handling the legato melody as the rhythm section relaxes
into a steady rock-like feel. The
selection develops into a capricious vamp that reflects Piper’s agile guitar
playing and love of melodies that develop over time and with subtle variations
in orchestration and melodic twists. That process of expansion continues during
Piper’s colorful solo; Piper’s flurries of notes form a swirling counterpoint
with a repeating background figure.
Piper’s lyricism and legato expression is again on full
display on the tracks “Somnambulist” and “Tonic Immobility.” As with “Two
Whee’s,” Piper’s melodicism on “Somnambulist” and “Tonic Immobility” grows out
of the simplest of ideas, but he organically develops his lines into complex
flowing statements that take the listener on a satisfying adventure that is
full of surprises, deeply rooted in logic and always wrought with groove. Piper’s playing is able to go in and out of
chords, while still conveying the grooves and textures, but his phrases always
feels whole and connected. Even though Piper is a multi-instrumentalist on the
project, his playing has the energy and urgency of an in the moment performance,
with no hint of staleness or preconceived ideas.
In conclusion, I really enjoy the variety of what this duet
can do, the music invites one to go on an adventure of styles and textures and
that is what makes this duet special, it is their ability to play so many
different kinds of styles and still sound like a cohesive “band.”
An excellent fusionistic rock journey Avant Funk packs a punch,
and shows the ability and diversity two players can create when groove, energy
and urgency are the main ingredient – sprinkled with stainless steel agility and
technique this groovin’ offering stands up to any performance test with road
worthy fuel injection. Highly