The next time someone asks me to define contemporary jazz, I have the answer: Transit from MSM Schmidt. The project is an ideal fusion of jazz and rock. It has excellent compositions that allow its stellar cast of musicians to let loose and improvise. It’s a plugged-in, fired-up affair that will reinvigorate a sagging spirit.
When I first heard the opening track, “Journey To Fukuoka,” I immediately thought of the Dave Weckl Band. It has the energy and sound of the DWB and features former DWB saxman Brandon Fields. Like every track here, this one has a who’s who of contemporary jazz lineup – Jimmy Haslip on bass, Joel Rosenblatt on drums, Judd Miller on EVI, Mitchell Forman on piano, Mike Miller on guitar, with Kai Thomsen and MSM Schmidt throwing in synth parts. Rosenblatt is joined by Ric Fierabracci on bass for the next track, the sentimental “Little Joe.” Walt Fowler is spotlighted on trumpet with a nice piano solo by David Garfield. Fields is impressive on soprano sax on the gentle, more acoustic “Country X.” Wolfgang Haffner and Dave Carpenter provide the rhythm and Mike Miller switches from electric guitar to acoustic. You can’t help but notice Forman on piano and not just because of his solo. He adds the right touches at the right places. “Song For Michel” is a beautiful dedication to Michel Colombier that features memorable solos by Rick Braun, Fields, and Forman. Two more A-list contributors show up on this track – Will Lee and Vinnie Colaiuta.
The tempo is kicked up on “Rizma.” Rosenblatt hasn’t really been restrained on this recording and this may be the track where he shows what he’s got the most. Mike Miller rocks the electric guitar solo then again switches to acoustic for another beautiful performance on the sweet “Caroline.” MSM Schmidt adds a nice synth backdrop and Ernie Watts adds a tender sax solo. Watts is up front again on the appropriately titled “Slow Moves,” a downtempo piece that still moves because of the active bass of Ernest Tibbs and drums of Wolfgang Haffner. It sounds like the next composition, “Xpress,” might have a Joe Zawinul influence. An entire new cast is assembled on this track – Scott Kinsey on keyboards, Scott Henderson on guitar, Steve Tavaglione on sax, Jimmy Earl on bass, Kirk Covington on drums, and Brad Dutz on percussion. MSM still delivers the synths (it’s his recording, after all). There’s also world music flavor on the following track, “Sphere.” Kai Thomsen lays out a keyboard soundscape that Haslip, Judd Miller, Watts, Forman, and Rosenblatt play effectively on.
There is unmistakable energy on Transit, from a ballad to especially this last track. “Falling Down” is a piece that starts with some cool electric piano and synths, then adds syncopated horn parts, bass, piano, trumpet, and sax solos, and later evolves into an all-out jam. Haffner, Forman, Tibbs, and Mike Miller are laying it all out toward the end.
I didn’t mention every solo by every musician. There are lots of them and they are all good. Mitchell Forman is featured on five tracks and I just ran out of ways to say “Forman delivers yet another memorable solo.” Mike Miller impressed me on every track he was on. Musicians who aren’t soloing are also giving their all. There are no background parts. Every bassist and drummer, keyboardist – you can hear everyone is into this music. Reading through the project history, it seems this recording was put together piece by piece but, man, it often sounds like these guys were having fun together live in the studio.
It helps that the music is written to allow the guys to do their thing. MSM Schmidt wrote all of the music except for “Xpress.” Not bad for a guy who describes himself as “an amateur musician who in a fit of megalomania scraped the money together” to put the project together!
If I were giving grades for recordings, I’d have no choice but to give Transit by MSM Schmidt an A. It excels on every level – playing, compositions, production – you name it. It’s an energetic recording that belongs in the library of every contemporary jazz fan.