Riley Mulherkar

Riley
(Westerlies Records)

Riley is the amazing debut solo recording from trumpeter Riley Mulherkar, a founding member of The Westerlies and a frequent performer with the likes of vocalist Theo Bleckmann and the folky Fleet Foxes. He’s the rare musician who understands that making a statement in the recording studio is much different than making one live onstage. He wrote much of the material at SPACE on Ryder Farm in upstate New York; the opening tune, “Chicken Coop Blues,” was written in an actual chicken coop. It sets the tone for the entire album: über hip, modern yet timeless. Space, air and intimacy hold listeners near throughout. “Coop” begins with the echoing, processed thud of a bass drum, like a heartbeat. Mulherkar improvises a beautiful blues over it using effects in just the right way. Every breath becomes part of the tune, his vibrato offering opportunities to add little electronic flourishes that take the music to a different plane. “Ride Or Die,” another original, is the hit here. It’s only March, but this is my favorite jazz single of the year so far. And it’s got staying power. I love the thematic approach, where Mulherkar and producers Rafiq Bhatia and Chris Pattishall introduce “Ride” again with a simple drum beat, this time at a quicker tempo to create that sense of taking off. A simple trumpet melody, at times overdubbed to sound like two trumpets, lifts the theme into the air, the rhythmic cadence of the bass offering a danceable groove for Mulherkar to glide over. When the solo drop happens, it is both unexpected and amazing. This music has jazz underpinnings, for sure, but takes the music in very personal, vastly different directions. This is someone who knows Miles and Dizzy and the history of jazz trumpet, but Mulherkar grew up in Seattle, so he knows grunge and folk and rock, too. The Westerlies have made a career of broad-minded music making that is obviously part of Mulherkar’s DNA, even when he’s delivering chestnuts like “King Porter Stomp” and “Stardust,” or “No More” featuring the beautiful vocals of Vuyo Sotashe. There is much to like on Riley, a wonderful listen from beginning to end, and one of the best debut records to come out in a long, long time.


On Sale Now
April 2024
Béla Fleck
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