Introducing jazz elements into otherwise straightforward rock is a gimmick as old as Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago, but when done right, it’s thrilling in a way that rock ‘n’ roll usually can’t be by definition. Possibly because they’re working with one saxophone, some soft-rock keyboards, and a violin rather than a full-fledged brass section, the members of Burris have chosen to take a mellower approach to jazz-rock with their debut, one that very definitely carries the imprint of Crescent City jazz history on it.
However, lead singer and guitarist Chris Hochkeppel seems stuck in jam band mode much of the time, attempting a genial mix of Ben Folds and Dave Matthews in these ten originals, and introducing fusion-lite into your ’90s roots-rock mix turns out to be a wobbly bit of artifice. When you’ve got a good instrumental groove going in blues or jazz, one unencumbered by any but the most basic lyrics, it makes sense to give everyone a solo: Here, it just complicates matters, taking what should be tight, punchy little four-minute songs and brooding over them until they become extended, monochromatic jams. It’s more about fattening the song than creating an atmosphere.
“Dance,” for example, has no reason to suddenly drop into an extended samba shortly after introducing itself, taking four minutes to arrive back at its original premise. The simple lust of “Burning Rays” gets waylaid by percussion spotlights that feel gimmicky in context. “A” is gentle and comforting but unnecessarily explodes into endless, nearly bombastic violin and sax noodling. When they merely shade with blue chords, as on the ballad “Morning Light,” they start to feel smart, not just nimble, but too often Burris’ improvisation distracts from the mood they want to create.