The Unknown New. not many neighbors. Independent release, 2018. (www.paulmutzabaugh.com)
Paul Mutzabaugh, electric bass, nylon-string guitar, and compositions
Chris Siebold, electric and lap steel guitars
Jim Tashjian, acoustic guitar and synth
Mike Pinto, uber-guitar
Jon Deitemyer, drums
Rich Stitzel, percussion
The Chicago-area musical entrepreneur Paul Mutzabaugh, recently involved in two notable efforts by the Kia Quintet and saxophonist Miguel Zenon with the Spektral Quartet, has released his third collection of compositions, this time with a guitar ensemble, The Unknown Few.
not many neighbors is an excursion into progressive instrumentals that meld folksy themes and state-of-the-art studio exploration. (In a review of the Kia Quintet, I called Mutzabaugh’s music “folk ambient.”) Its notable production values—not a surprise given Mutzabaugh’s apparent high standing in the studio, having produced the acclaimed Zenon/Spektral album—and pleasingly idiosyncratic, eclectic performances from his mates combine to create interesting and stimulating listening. The mash of electric and acoustic sounds hearkens back to those fusionist albums from the late 70’s through the late 80’s; names like Jean-Luc Ponty, Al Di Meola, Jeff Beck, Nels Cline, (early) John Scofield, Wayne Krantz, and Mitch Watkins come to mind.
Mutzabaugh, a keyboardist who has gained some recognition as a bassist (his role on this album), clearly wants to invigorate the listening experience by knitting a yin-yang quilt of analog and electronic sound. For example, the opening piece, “pasaje valenciano,” combines the acoustic guitar of Jim Tashjian, the lap steel fills of Chris Siebold, and the electric über-guitar of Mike Pinto. “kleine Katze” features Tashjian creating a lush palate for Siebold (a reviewer favorite), whose sumptuous chords provide a tonal counterpoint.
Siebold’s petal whine presents the plaintive mood in “love not lightly,” with Mutzabaugh adding nylon-string accompaniment in the midst of softly stated percussion effects. That mood continues, though in a brighter vein, during “the rain is a most agreeable companion,” where Mutzabaugh’s nylon-string guitar joins Tashjian in a ride pushed ever-so-lightly by the versatile Jon Deitemyer. Not unlike a Pat Metheny Group composition, the music builds up to a solo musing by Siebold, who is pensive and jazzy this time in his rendering before a short, rousing send-up at the end.
The penultimate piece, “okanagan rescue,” is an electric celebration that calls to mind those aforementioned predecessors. Siebold’s playing here is crisp and satisfying in that nostalgic way. Pinto’s eloquent über contribution paves the way for another Siebold advancement, a chance for him to demonstrate his chops, of which he has a bundle. The added vibes embellishment enhances the brew, as Mutzabaugh’s bass dances along.
The finale, the short “not many neighbors,” is pure melodic ambiance, provided by Tashjian on acoustic and electronics.
With not many neighbors, Mutzabaugh has certified his studio production abilities and provided evidence that sophisticated ensemble music is possible and pleasing without being sterile and antiquated. Sometimes you just have to find the right musicians and the right vision, and Paul Mutzabaugh knows how to find both.