Drummer-producer Andrew Munsey has been working towards this debut album for over a decade, but as with any group workshopped in live sessions, I hadn’t yet had a chance to hear his quintet in action. Featuring Steph Richards on trumpet and flugelhorn and Sam Minaie on bass, the core of High Tide is the same as Richards’s quartet on Take the Neon Lights, with the addition here of Ochion Jewell on tenor sax and kalimba and Amino Belyamani on piano and Fender Rhodes. In more than one way, this echoes the sibling relationships of Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day and Nate Wooley’s quintet.
Like Eisenstadt, Munsey builds striking, addictive melodies, where horns, bass, and keyboards glide through spaces built on coordinated improvisation and lengthy through-composed sections. And like Wooley, Richards is one of the most imaginative, talented brass players, whose use of rhythm and space amplifies the complexity of Munsey’s compositions. Take, for example, the horns around minute 4 of the title track: after Munsey’s brief, percussive bridge, Richards and Jewell return on a lovely B section that has the feeling of a spontaneously assembled, well executed plan. Later, on “Requite,” Minaie sets a drone-like stage to highlight the melody, leading into lengthy, patient solos from Belyamani and Richards. On “Seedlings,” Belyamani’s Fender Rhodes pushes against Richards’s brief solo to create a heavy blanket that subtly hides the groove laid down by Minaie and Munsey.
The whole album drifts between an electro-acoustic dreamspace, overtly represented by the improvised transition pieces (“Petite Feast,” “Driftwood,” “Undertow,” and “Prelude: Tree Fruit”) between the more composed ones (“High Tide,” “Seedlings,” “Requite,” “Schema,” “Les Cinq Doigts: Lento,” and “Skyline”). But much of the credit also goes to Munsey’s use of The Bunker Studio, where the album was recorded. Home of recordings by David Torn, Tim Berne, Vijay Iyer, and Dave Douglas, among dozens of others, The Bunker provides Munsey’s producing, mixing, and mastering side with a draft of tremendous depth. The results are heard everywhere, and “Schema” and “Skyline” are among the album’s sonic highlights. Both combine a balladic timbre with a driving melody, “Skyline” in particular foregrounds the richness of the album’s mix.
Taken together, the elements that make High Tide one of the year’s highlights should also build excitement about Munsey beyond his reputation as a producer. The quintet’s debut is an excellent preview of what’s to come, and not to overdo the comparison to Eisenstadt, but Munsey clearly has a deep well to draw from, and I expect we’ll hear from him increasingly over the next few years.
Available on vinyl, CD and digital at Bandcamp
A well written review, Lee. I’d like to hear more.
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