Human Element: Human Element (2011)
Things may not always work out the way they're planned, but that doesn't mean that can't actually work out better. When keyboardist Scott Kinsey began work on the overdue follow-up to his well-received (and equally overdue) debut as a leader, Kinesthetics (Abstract Logix, 2006), the plan was to focus on a small, consistent line-up, as opposed to the cast of nearly 20 musicians that contributed to Kinesthetics' exploration of a post-Joe Zawinul world, where synthesized orchestrations blended with percussion-heavy world music concerns, sophisticated harmonic ideations and gritty fusion attitudes. Recruiting three other players, each with their own distinctive voices and far-reaching vernaculars, it became increasingly clear that this was, in fact, a real group effort, where the inherent chemistry demanded a more egalitarian approach, and so Kinsey stepped back from being a leader, and Human Element was born.
While the group's debut at the 2010 New Universe Music Festival was altered by the substitution of Ranjit Barot for drummer Gary Novak (unavailable due to prior commitments), it was still an augur of very good things to come. It's been a long five months, anticipating the release of Human Element, but it's been well worth the wait. Kinsey contributes four of the 73-minute disc's fourteen original tracks, and though his voice remains unequivocally definitive to the group's sound, Human Element's not-so-hidden treasure is, in fact, Arto Tuncboyacian, the Armenian percussionist/vocalist who has, over the past couple decades, brought a Puckish sense of improvisational mischief to recordings ranging from Oregon's Northwest Passage (Intution, 1996) to The Zawinul Syndicate's Vienna Nights (BirdJAM, 2005).
Clearly Tunçboyaciyan's reach is as broad as his band mates; writing more than half of the disc means that Human Elements weighs heavily on his ever-evolving, borders-down approach, and in particular his singing which, while sharing space with Kinsey's Zawinul-esque Vocoder, has never been so large a part of any project, outside his own independent releases with groups like his Armenian Navy Band. But lest any fusion fans feel trepidation at Human Element's greater preponderance of vocals, rest assured this is not a typical voice-driven record, because Tunçboyaciyan is no typical singer, nor are Kinsey, Garrison and Novak typical instrumentalists.
The knotty rhythms of Kinsey's "The Human Element" may continue to expand on the decades-long innovation that Zawinul honed, first with Weather Report and then with Zawinul Syndicate, but Kinsey can be a more complex writer, combining booty shaking grooves (even when it's hard to find "the one") with a richer emphasis on individual instrumental prowess. Über-electric bassist Matthew Garrison's fleet fingers and improvisational immediacy feels effortless here, and on his own "Izzy," where finger-picked bass lines often sound more like a pitch- dropped guitar, and Kinsey's expansive sonics blend seamlessly with Tunçboyaciyan's voice for a surprisingly hummable melody, amidst Novak's tumultuous drumming and Tunçboyaciyan effervescent percussion work.
The very specificity of Zawinul's legacy seems to unfairly shackle musicians following in his footsteps, given those who expand, say, on Miles Davis' '70s-era electric music are given a different treatment. Human Element's roots may be clear, but so, too, is its unique collective voice, on one of the best fusion debuts in years.
Track Listing: Introduction; Izzy; The Human Element; Speak With Your Eye; Onno; Hi Lao; Cut; Listen With Your Mouth; Essaouira; Crazy Girl; See With Your Ear; Shake It; Bottom of the Mirror; Think About It.
Personnel: Scott Kinsey: Nord keyboards, Roand V-Synth/Vocoder, piano, Rhodes MK7; Arto Tunçboyaciyan (Mr. Avant-Garde Folk): Artom drums, percussion, voices, dudk, bular; Matthew Garrison: Fodoera basses, Epifani amplification; Gary Novak: Yamaha PHX drums, Zildjian cymbals; John McLaughlin: guitar (6); Seto "T-Dot" Tunçboyaciyan: vocal (14); Vassiliki: voice (12).