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Jeff Richman's latest release Hotwire.
Jeff Richman’s latest release Hotwire packs some funky punches but also contains restrained, ballad-like pieces of fusion.

As soon as the sprightly melody of “Hit Spot,” the first track of Jeff Richman’s latest album, emerges with electrifying excitement, you might expect a great jazz-rock fusion album that updates the genre from the early days of Miles and Zappa. The punching vamp reminds me specifically of Miles’s Tribute to Jack Johnson, reaching out with palpable spunk; but a gentle atmosphere still invites us, the listeners, in. But this is the most psychedelic or near psychedelic the album gets. Following the flight of “Hit Spot,” we land on the ground for a funky jam called “Seven Up.” It is a great start to an album that jams, grooves, flies, and ruminates.

Richman polished a funk-rock-jazz gem in “Oh, Yeah?” The hybrid nature of this song reflects the general album: plenty of wandering, hints of fury, and plenty of joy. This song sounds like a great jam edited down to the best parts. Elements of traditional jazz pop up in a few songs, but last only until Richman steps in with his guitar, a dominant feature of the entire slickly-produced album. That’s one gripe I have: a little more dissonance or wah-wah would have endeared this album more to youngsters. The first track on the album suggests a fairly brave, bold fusion but by the third track, it’s clear that this is not teenage angst-ridden jazz fusion. This is the kind you could drive with and zone out with pleasantly.

Jeff Richman’s fusion brews elements of music that are not threatening: rock guitar, funky bass lines, grooves with calm piano intros and new-age guitar-vocal harmony vamps. The stylish guitar soloing on the album is sublime and soaring at points, unimaginative and too restrained at others. One song, “Little Waves,” fits its title so well that you can imagine a bird’s eye view of a drive down Highway 1 with foam-crested blue massaging the cliffs. The enjoyable jams on the album make every revisit worthwhile.