Vermont's Huntington Project are damn hard to pin down, genre-wise. The band runs from funky-jazz to light metal, all the while echoing the titans of '70s progressive rock. While not without its warts, the band's latest offering, The Last Gap, provides plenty of post-jam spills and thrills.
The sextet's sound is built around the rhythmic foundation of drummer Dan Bailey and bassist Dave Carlson, who provide solid support even during the trickiest musical passages. Guitarists Mike Huyler and Peter Bailey both have impressive chops, but lean towards intricate riffs rather than fretboard pyrotechnics. Tenor saxman Eric Manley adds texture, easily keeping pace with the six-stringers. Unfortunately, vocalist/percussionist Shane Murley's presence is distracting. While his voice is more than adequate, his faux-soul ministrations and rock-dude come-ons are often annoying.
Opener "Daily Regime" sounds like a cross between The Meters and Blow by Blow-era Jeff Beck. Its center riff is both funky and complex, a fine example of progressive-rock guitar playing. Murley's goofy vocals clutter up an already busy song, however.
Subsequent track "You've Got Your Way" features a far more convincing performance by the singer. In some places, he echoes great front men of the '70s, including Traffic's Steve Winwood. In others, he channels avant-rock kingpin Mike Patton. It's a mix that -- here, at least -- works well.
"Jibba Jabba" provides an opportunity for Manley to blow a mean horn as the rhythm section works through an extended funk vamp. A King Crimson-esque turnaround acts as a launch pad for a gnarly guitar solo by Huyler, but the tune's rugged groove is sullied by a rap interlude that, by comparison, makes Will Smith sound gangsta.
There are plenty of inspired moments throughout the rest of the record, including the Steely Dan-gone-heavy-metal "Nice Splice" and the funky-chicken pickin' of "What I Like." A slight reggae influence is heard on "You Decide," while on "Standing Still" the band explores darker rock quarters.
While it doesn't exactly re-invent the jam-rock wheel, The Last Gap offers an energetic take on the form. Huntington Project would be well served to exercise a bit more quality control, however. Just because you can switch from prog to cock-rock in a single six-minute song doesn't necessarily mean you should. Still, it's a good bet their CD release party at the FlynnSpace on Saturday, Nov. 5, will provide plenty of tight jams and clever transitions.