At first glance last night at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café in Frankfort, it seemed the members of saxophonist Jeff Coffin’s aptly named Mu’tet band were wearing their influences openly. While perhaps not apparent on their sleeves, they were certainly visible on their chests.
Guitarist Mike Seal wore a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt. Trumpeter Bill Fanning wore a Miles Davis t-shirt. Bassist Felix Pastorius wore a Muppets t-shirt. That suggested at least some of the traditional and, yes, mutated inspirations the ensemble’s infectious jazz sound zeroed in on last night and the playful means with which they brought them to life.
For example, Loueke was built around a guitar melody with an Asian/African accent that served as a backdrop for decidedly cool sax and trumpet leads that recalled the great Blue Note recordings of the early ‘60s. A similarly designed montage of genre-jumping was evident during Al’s Greens. It opened with a spacey, rhythm section-generated groove that weaved its way in and out of the tune’s generous sense of swing.
And then there were instances where the Mu’tet’s personnel seemed to merrily embody those inspirations. Coffin, a longtime member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones now in the employment of the Dave Matthews Band, summoned the spirit of the great Rahsaan Roland Kirk by playing alto and tenor saxophones simultaneously. Seal mastered a wiry guitar tone flexible enough to trigger warp-speed solos that recalled the early work of John Scofield. And bassist Pastorius, with his lanky frame and powerfully elastic playing style managed to look and sound like his father, the immensely influential jazz fusion bassist Jaco Pastorius.
But even with a hit list of such specific influences at work, nothing in this two hour-plus sold out performance seemed imitative, from the pronounced and playful New Orleans vibe of Move Your Rug (one of two tunes where Coffin invited Lexington’s Miles Osland to sit on alto sax) to the mix of funk and boppish skirmishes during The Mad Hatter Rides Again.
Capping it all, though, was the opportunity to hear a player like Coffin, who is accustomed to playing arenas and even stadiums with the DMB, bringing his neatly combustible music to one of the region’s most inviting and intimate venues. What a splendid treat.