Artist: Justin Piper
Album: Avant Funk
Label: Self Released
Release Date: 02/22/2016
Justin Piper is a composer, bassist and guitarist that resides north of Boston, Massachusetts. His musical interests have led him into a love of eastern melodic development and articulation, which inspired him to learn to play the Oud and apply eastern concepts into his improvising. Piper’s long-overdue step into the spotlight is over with his debut album, Avant Funk. The project combines the melody and harmony of modern jazz and the hypnotic syncopation of funk, with the energy and drive of rock and fusion. Avant Funk is a bold and original duet outing, that displays Piper’s multi-instrumental abilities, creative compositions and genre bending feels.
Piper teams up with drummer Tom Garrington as the pair work through twelve original compositions by Piper. The two display a sensitivity and profoundly intuitive interplay that belies that fact that all melodic and harmonic parts are played and layered in by Piper, with Garrington providing the rhythmic support. The result is a sound that is more cohesive and empathetic than many long-established trios or quartets.
Avant Funk begins with “I Fall Down,” which starts with a warmly distorted guitar figure set to a slow medium tempo rock beat. Piper movingly projects a sense of quiet strength in his melodic playing that is associated with rock guitar, but his sense of melodic note choices and harmonic colors reveals he is a devoted eastern scale man. He takes his time unfolding the main theme, very caringly giving each phrase a subtle touch of nuance that brings each phrase to life. His solos are full of strength and building melodies, all conveyed with a sense of time that is in the pocket (bringing the funk groove into play). This best sums up who he is as a player, a broadly influenced groove musician, in both melodic and harmonic situations. Hence the title Avant Funk, it is all about the sanctuary of the groove.
“Buzz Book” is set to a funky/rock feel centered around a catchy rhythm guitar figure. Again, Piper’s melodic playing is personal and hued in eastern influences. Garrington keeps the energy high with all of Piper’s parts being buoyed by a sleek groove and smartly placed cymbal colors. The piece is a raucous and rollicking take on the marriage of funk, jazz, eastern colors and rock. However, the track is always in focus while maintaining the ever driving groove of funk and energy of rock. Piper’s solo statements on this track are excellent and display one of his many strengths of striking an enjoyable balance between space and succinctly played fast passages of notes. His use of the wah-wah pedal is very original and adds much to the tracks character.
“Big Rock” celebrates the raw energy of rock as did the first track. Piper’s original penned melody is again full of eastern influences and builds organically. Piper’s approach to the guitar may show the more obvious influence of rock with a hushed jazz genius, but his guitar playing is always ebullient and full of virtuosic artistry. Piper’s solos on this track may be set to a rock feel, but is phrasing and melodic/harmonic choices clearly show his complete control of the modern jazz vocabulary.
On Avant Funk, Piper’s tip of hat to the unique union of rock, funk, jazz and eastern music comes across in a brilliant musical marriage. Piper’s playing is expressive and conveyed with a distinctive voice that is forging new ground in the ever evolving jazz landscape.