Burlington's Japhy Ryder are committed musicians who don't let 40-hour work weeks get in the way of steady gigging. They're a regular presence on the Vermont club circuit and have been invited to open for several big-name acts including the Roots and Ozomatli. Now, the trumpet-driven, instrumental quartet is gearing up for the release of their self-titled full-length debut. Chances are, their schedules will only get busier.
It's not entirely fair to call JR as a jam band, as most of their songs are tightly scripted. The funk of yore provides them with their main source of inspiration, although elements of the burgeoning "live electronic" genre occasionally make their way into the mix. The disc's overall production is praiseworthy - especially considering it was tracked in a Long Island basement in a mere two days.
Most of the tunes on Japhy Ryder are solid, some of 'em even soulful. Trumpeter Will Andrews plays with a laid-back assuredness, favoring old-school cool over brassy flash. Guitarist Jeremy Kizina has more in common with Afrobeat axe men than jazzy jammers; he rarely plays chords, instead opting to echo Andrews' melodies with single-note wah-wah lines. With bassist Patrick Ormiston's portly grooves and drummer Jason Thime's crisp rhythmic articulation, the band arrives at a unique sound.
What I like most about the album is the fact that it doesn't sound forced or contrived. So many jam acts approach songs as instrumental exercises or, worse, vehicles for quirky observations and half-baked prose. The latter certainly doesn't apply here, as JR have no vocalist. But the band also understands that music requires breathing room to truly groove.
"W.E.S.T" - an acronym for Will's Electronic Space Trumpet - is a fine example of the band's patience. Each player is allowed plenty of space to maneuver, as the song builds on a somewhat generic breakbeat to become a neo-funk sizzler.
Still, Japhy are a couple of notches below extraordinary. "Judicial Review" aims for psychedelic dub, occasionally sounds like Chuck Mangione gone ambient electro. There are choice moments, however, particularly Kizina's broadly panned guitar and Thime's slippery rimshots.
"No Complaints, Mr. Sprinkles" is, according to the band, named after a homeless man in Troy, New York. The song is proudly manic, switching from splatter-funk to Zappa-esque wank to downtempo space-disco in just over six minutes. No doubt its namesake has as many kooky moods.
The disc closes with ". . . I Guess That's It," a minor-key churner closer to moody jammers Lake Trout than any feel-good funk act. With its somber, repeating guitar figure and reverb-y trumpet, it's the most sonically interesting tune on the album.
Japhy Ryder are well on their way to distinction in an all-too homogenized scene. If they continue to explore the intersections of groove, dub and retro funk, they might one day be untouchable. Catch their release party with U-Melt on Friday, Oct. 20, at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge.