By James Hale | Published September 2019
There is plenty to like about Charnett Moffett’s new quintet, especially his choice to concentrate solely on fretless electric bass. The opposing poles of Moffett’s dark, springy tone and Scott Tixier’s violin provide sonic contrast—particularly when they weave tightly together on the stirring “Holy Spirit”—and the decision to use the leader’s former boss, Ornette Coleman, as an influence for a pair of songs injects tuneful improvisation. If only the entire album had the spontaneity and cohesion of “Netting” and the title composition.
Because the album is a mere 43 minutes long, the distance between the two pieces inspired by Coleman and singer/guitarist Jana Herzen’s gentle, Celtic-tinged “Precious Air” is especially stark. While the instrumentals flow organically, “Precious Air” seems forced, with a melody deeply indebted to Enya and a dozen other Irish New Age artists, and hackneyed lyrics that allude to air that is “unseen, but always there.” The gulf is so evident, the songs seem like they were intended for different projects.
In the middle sit “Free The Slaves”—which threatens to explode into a Mahavishnu Orchestra-style blowout, but lacks a lead instrument as galvanizing as John McLaughlin’s guitar—and “Set It Free,” the most effective twinning of bass and violin in the collection, even if the bridge doesn’t measure up to the promise of the main theme.
Too frequently, Moffett seems intent on creating an environment—as with the three-minute bass introduction of “Waterfalls”—without providing enough content for it to pay off. That’s the risk with music meant to evoke spiritual transcendence: If the listener doesn’t commit to the journey, it can seem like a trip to nowhere.
Bright New Day: Holy Spirit; Free The Slaves; Precious Air; O My God Elohim; Set It Free; Waterfalls; Netting; Bright New Day. (43:30)
Personnel: Charnett Moffett, electric bass, vocals; Jana Herzen, guitar, vocals; Scott Tixier, violin; Brian Jackson, piano, synthesizer; Mark Whitfield Jr., drums.