Shamarr Allen is a born front man, the kind of artist who embraces a showy star turn. Throughout his career performing and recording with brass bands, jazz ensembles, and his recent funk-rock projects, listening to Allen perform has meant hearing his sensibilities and his powerful trumpet drive a band’s rhythms and shape its sound. On Bridging the Gap, his collaboration with veteran New Orleans singer-songwriter Paul Sanchez, Allen’s charismatic musical presence is uncharacteristically subdued.
In its style, arrangements and rhythms, Bridging the Gap is primarily governed by Sanchez’s whimsical roots-rock. It doesn’t feature many star turns at all. The CD’s 10 tracks highlight the duo’s mutual influence and the fun Allen and Sanchez obviously have making music together. The ideas they trade showcase the ease with which they’ve assimilated their diverse musical backgrounds and personal biographies to a shared vision of feel-good music. At times, it takes on the flavor of a backporch jam, rather than a studio record. Bridging the Gap covers Cat Stevens, Kanye West, Willie Nelson and John Lennon without departing from its own sound. The duo’s shared voice emerges further on their new original songs about the city that shaped the collaboration. As Allen’s rap vocal on “Hurricane Party for a new New Orleans” suggests, they’re very much in this thing together.
Projects like Bridging the Gap often risk sacrificing musical and conceptual coherence to their eclectic ambitions: trying to say everything at once, they can end up saying nothing. The performances here sidestep that problem with a clear vision and purpose. Bridging the Gap finds an easy New Orleans groove, lays back in it expertly and effortlessly, and invites the listener along.