Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Joe Russo’s experimental jazz really grooves

February 17, 2020

Joe Russo’s phér•bŏney is otherworldly music. Russo’s debut album, available on limited edition black vinyl through Royal Potato Family, gives jazz fans the ability to fully immerse themselves in the multi-instrumentalist’s symphony of sound. Russo embraces classic jazz forms and contemporary grooves in real throwback physical form for audiophiles. Get ready to sink in.

We’re calling this jazz to put a context on it, but it’s really a soundscape painted note by note, rising with sax and drums surrounding each echo. Nine tracks shower the senses, making full immersion through vinyl an inviting choice for fans of Royal Potato’s experimental vibe. Joining lead composer Russo are longtime friends and collaborators: guitarists Josh Kaufman (Josh Ritter, Bob Weir) and Robbie Magnano (Project/Object), saxophonists Erik Lawrence (Midnight Ramble Band, Steven Bernstein’s Millenial Territory Orchestra) and Stuart Bogie (Arcade Fire, AntiBlas). The music here evolved with these collaborators in much the same fashion the Russo/Benevento Duo creations were born.

Freeform compositions gave birth to ideas and experimentations eventually captured  in Brooklyn, creating phér•bŏney. The nine electro-jazz tracks are living creations. The whole album is an invitation to the space between imagination and artistry in music that is rarely accessible, and opener “Love Theme” is a perfect entree into that otherworldly sonic experience. Perfection is subjective, but “Can’t Wink” is the closest to perfect that I’ve heard musically in a long time. From absent-minded whistling through intensifying urgency, this is an artist’s soundscape, rich with color. The Bond-like musicality of “Perfectabilitarians” serves as perfect contrast to its dark lyricism. Russo’s brilliant performances are in the nuanced performances that connect the individual musicians in tracks like this. 

Though I prefer analog/acoustic production, Marco Benevento and others in the electronic genre have helped me appreciate the artistry of cuts like “Elf/Man,” which reminds me in more than one way of Oingo Boingo’s Danny Elfman. Fusing jazz rock beats into unusual sounds seems perfect. “WowSignal” seems an otherworldly way to share the love of creative genius Joe Russo’s phér•bŏney. The whole collection is subtle yet ultimately overpowering, and there is no doubt that those audiophiles who added this vinyl to their collection will really get it. —Lisa Whealy

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Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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