Brad Walker, “ep1” (Independent)

brad-walker-ep1It’s been a few years since saxophonist Brad Walker—whose work with Sturgill Simpson and a slew of New Orleans funk and jazz acts kept him busy for much of 2016—went into the studio with his own band. His first release as a leader in 2017 is ep1, a dramatic set comprised of music from the worlds of electronic pop (Little Dragon’s “Twice”); indie-folk (Sun Kil Moon’s “Half Moon Bay”); a pair of tunes, “Lullaby” I and II, written by tabla and sitar player Collin Walcott and recorded for ECM in 1982 by Codona; plus “Horizon,” an original composition from Walker.

Reaching into such diverse musical backgrounds could lead to some disjointedness on a 27-minute EP. But not Walker and his band—pianist Oscar Rossignoli, guitarist Danny Abel, bassist Nathan Lambertson, drummers G. Maxwell Zemanovic and A.J. Hall and singer Mikayla Braun. Instead, the group finds cohesion in the similar movement that drives each song.

“Twice,” featuring Braun’s rich vocals against a spare, soft piano-and-drums exchange, gets an edge courtesy of rock-tinged horn lines and guitar growls. From there, the group returns to its usual quintet format, setting up the rest of the album as “The Living Room Suite,” which ebbs and flows between four tracks without ever quite going silent. Within each of those initially peaceful, even romantic tracks is a common core of fomented combustion that throws knots and tension into the songs’ otherwise glassy calm. The fiery horn dissonance that infiltrates “Half Moon Bay” sees Walker playing with timbre, texture and other elements of his sound before the energy shifts back. The brief “Lullaby I” begins where “Half Moon Bay” left off, with underlays of glimmering effects and swirls of electronic and piano color. By the time “Horizon” rolls in, the mood is decidedly more intense; the storm that brews at the center of the other tracks takes little time to find its eye here. “Lullaby II,” the shortest piece on the album, brings a handful of previous themes back to center, giving the whole album a welcome sense of resolution.