Brian Shapiro Band – “All That We See”
Freeform jazz is often impossible to put a saddle on when fronting a full band and recording a coherent album. A lot of the time, the core themes can get lost in the sauce and the artists end up greatly paying for substance over style – most groups that try to tackle the genre and stylistic urges associated with jazz in their music are lucky to make it out the other side with something to show for it, let alone with their musical souls still intact. All of this preface is to say how rare it is for a project to end with the band gaining more soul and confidence than they originally had… but rest assured that’s not a problem here. Arriving on the scene with their debut album All That We See, the Philadelphia-based Brian Shapiro Band is making a statement and listeners will immediately realize that they’re doing so with their whole chest and then some.
From the second the album opener “Three Things” begins, listeners are thrown into a gleeful tailspin of time signatures and rhythmic variety with bravado that invokes Brian Shapiro gallantly sprinting onto a private stage located within the listener’s mind’s eye. A horn shrieks and trills in the background, the guitar shreds, and Shapiro wails with a voice halfway between punk-surf-rock and Eddie Vedder. The statement has been shouted, the seed planted, and by the end of the first three minutes of All That We See, the Brian Shapiro Band hasn’t only given us one tree to climb but an entire forest to get lost in.
The band’s background points listeners further in the appropriate direction for exactly what the album is trying to achieve as their first recorded proclamation – I wasn’t surprised to learn that, among a variety of other things, frontman Brian Shapiro has dabbled in: street performing in New York City and San Francisco, doing theatre in Austin, and fronting an electronic trio in Paris. Shapiro is a musician, performance artist, and communication specialist with a long list of influences behind his unique sound including the diverse picks of Talking Heads, Tom Waits, John Coltrane, and Public Enemy. Joining Shapiro is Ed Moman on bass and producing, whose “influences lie heavily in rhythm and blues concepts, modal improvisation, and ‘pocket’ grooves.” Last, but far from least, is Ben Kutner-Duff on drums/arrangements. Kutner-Duff has musical background tied to the Berklee College of Music, further raising the bar set within this eclectic and provocative trio. It’s no wonder the output is so sharp and certain.
As far as other standouts go, “Why Wait” harkens back to classic CBGB-punk by channeling a “Psycho Killer”-esque David Byrne within Shapiro; the same evocation is present in the shrill vocals on display in “Thin Skin,” which paints a picture-perfect portrayal of a protagonist you would probably want to cross the street to avoid meeting head-on. Closing out All That We See with the hilarious and fully-unbridled “Le Chien” is the best decision on the album, in my opinion, as it fully sums up the chaos and musical talent on display at its most exuberant. As far as debut albums go, All That We See is one helluva first outing! Go treat your “Gourmet Mind” to it, available now for purchase and on streaming.