The simple phrase, “This album is dedicated to all of my teachers: past, present, and future,” lines the inside cover of the Cliff Hines Quintet’s debut album, Like Mystics of Old. It’s a rather bold statement considering Hines has yet to reach 21. But after one listen, it’s clear that the young student (Hines studies jazz guitar at the University of New Orleans) chose his words wisely and with careful consideration as a deep sense of optimism and reverence permeate this imaginative and ebullient affair.
Hines’ lyrical six-string flourishes color Like Mystics of Old’s canvas, enticing vocalist Sasha Masakowski’s playful coos one moment (“What Choice Do I Have”) while inciting her cries the next (“Nova”). The rhythm section of drummer Paul Thibodeaux and bassist Martin Masakowski (Sasha’s brother) provide the album’s contrasts, propelling the hypnotic fugue of “Insomniatic” and eliciting the sonorous euphoria of “The Pacifier.” Khris Royal on saxophone and EWI serves as Hines’ melodic counterpoint, drifting gorgeously through the vivid dreamscape, “Pastel,” and whirling dizzily around the post-rock fantasy, “Dance of the Cleyrans.”
Not all of the album’s tunes work as well. The confusing “Tippy Toes,” the only lyric-driven number, withers a bit as Masakowski muses about the fate of a bizarre, shapeshifting creature. At other points, the album digresses into fusionland. But the sublime texture of “As in Blindness,” and the stirring beauty of “Mystic” capture Hines’ depth as a composer. The album’s title track, also its only cover, pays tribute to the late, avant-garde clarinetist Alvin Batiste, Jr. Here, over spare percussion, Martin Masakowski— playing bass recorder—and Hines weave a multi-hued tapestry rich in East Asian mystique. Lush and eloquent, never brash nor naïve, the Cliff Hines Quintet molds jazz that is at the same time exuberant and expressive, subtle and supple.