Noah Young, Splinter (Album Reviews)

Modern NOLA jazz bands often come in one of three flavors: your studious post-bop types, who approach the music purely from a technical perspective (lots of solo spotlights), the acid-jazz freaks, who like to pin things down with a heavy funk beat and then incorporate a lot of the city’s other musical traditions on top, and the possessed fusion types, who just let loose and fly off into the atmosphere, eight sets of hands and three sets of lips operating as one.

Noah Young (who also holds down the bottom end of celebrated jazz-funk whatevers Naughty Professor), now fronts a combo that moves in all three directions at once, the music conducted in almost orchestral fashion by Young himself. He’s the least flashy musician here, but when the whirlwind stops and resets itself (which is often), his rubbery tone is always the element leading the others back out.

If you’ve heard the band’s debut Start the Reactor, you know how it operates: Walter Lundy’s almost martial fusillades storm in and begin bending everything into impossible angles, while Sam Kuslan gets cosmic with his synths, and his soloists experiment with color washes. The horn section is a little fuller and more polished this time out. The two tenors and trumpet that used to sound a little stuffy, now sound balanced, glowing, and all of a piece. The appropriately named title track feels like getting caught in a math-jazz tornado of time signatures, until your feet hit the ground and a pure funk workout walks you out. It’s an approach the band takes a lot, pitting chaos against the familiar.

There’s also less of a direct R&B worship going on this time out. “Six Million Ways to Die” has an Blaxploitation soundtrack feel, and it’s hard not to dance to “Testify” if you’re contortionist enough, but “Exploding Heads” is the literal epic; when was the last time you heard studio echo used as a jazz instrument? This party goes on in your head and feet at the same time. Try to keep your balance.