By Ed Enright | Published March 2020
The Unknown New is more than just a platform for the original compositions and production talents of Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist Paul Mutzabaugh. The cross-genre ensemble—best described as equal parts chamber jazz, fusion and instrumental folk—is a guitar tour de force that showcases some of the Windy City’s strongest, and more melodically minded, players.
Inkflies, the group’s fourth CD, features Chris Siebold, Mike Pinto and Jim Tashjian on an arsenal of axes including lap steel, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, baritone guitar and synth guitar. Mutzabaugh, who plays electric bass and percussion throughout the album, provides background guitar parts (nylon string, acoustic, electric) as well. The resulting mosaic of guitar patterns, leads and improvisations entrances listeners and draws them deep into the Unknown New experience via tasty hooks, compelling solos and uplifting ostinatos. Drummer Jon Deitemeyer, a true artist behind the kit, runs a stylistic gamut, from easygoing swing to hushed balladry, to second-line snare-buzzing, to backbeat-driven rock grooves, to full-out explosions of crash cymbals, thundering toms and bass drum bombs. Percussionist Rich Stitzel adds subtle textures and not-so-subtle accents that put the finishing touch on Mutzabaugh’s delicately balanced arrangements. Three tracks are supplemented with tasteful drum loops, a light touch of production that lends Inkflies a contemporary-retro flavor.
“En Route To A Lost Lake” serves as a strong album opener with its catchy melody and Pinto’s crunchy, tremolo-laden electric guitar passages. Siebold makes the lap steel sing on “De Otro Mar,” a contemplative, dreamlike piece that conjures a sea of calm and features Tashjian on a soothing acoustic solo. Other highlights include the title track, which undergoes dramatic shifts in feel and dynamics, from light jazz waltz to slow-burn rocker and back again; “Me Sana El Fuego,” distinguished by its baritone guitar lead, funky prog-rock electric bass runs and brainy yet playful odd-meter stutter; and album closer “Velleity’s Charm,” with its exquisitely voiced chord/melody combinations and restrained, deliberate pacing. Upcoming performances by The Unknown New include a March 23 set at Elastic Arts in Chicago.