Alex Toth & The Lazybirds, Birdhead
Ex-Burlingtonian Alex Toth may still be a pup, but he's already accomplished plenty. Since graduating from UVM a couple of years ago, he's been among the most celebrated musicians in the Green Mountains, performing with "psychotropical" act Guagua as well as his own outfit, the Lazybirds.
These days, Toth and his saxophonist partner Annakalmia Traver make their home in Boston, where they're members of reggae outfit John Brown's Body. They also continue to play in the Lazybirds, whose fine sophomore effort, Birdhead, is about to be released.
Unlike their debut, which featured mostly covers, the Lazybirds' new album is composed entirely of originals. Each of the 10 tracks is distinctive, making Birdhead a delightful listen from start to finish.
Jazz has many an offshoot, and it's tough to say exactly how this record should be categorized. Hints of Tropicalia, fusion, swing and soul can all be heard, with trad elements flitting in and out of the arrangements like musical butterflies.
The disc kicks off with the title track, an elegantly stuttering mix of jazz-rock 'tude and swing style. Toth's solo is epic and well plotted, ranging from clipped sputters to elongated phrases that drift like sonic smoke signals. Guitarist Geoff Kim turns in a tonal puzzle piece as drummer Dan Ryan delivers some tasty kick drum.
Traver's smoky voice enlivens "Mr. Samsa," a graceful ballad that serves as an exercise in restrained modal playing. Things get particularly interesting in the tune's midsection, as keyboardist Peter Krag stretches out with an extended electric piano solo. He's followed by Traver, whose horn work is every bit as entrancing as her vocal.
"Speak" features a samba-style bass line (played by Russ Flynn), but it ain't exactly Latin. The main melody, smoothly played by Toth and Traver, is clandestinely complex, teasing out the edges of each chord it implies. Traver turns in her best solo of the album on this cut, which is definitely saying something. The tune requires attentive listening, which is, in turn, richly rewarded.
"Autumn Sketch" arranges space and tone in a sublime sound painting. Traver takes another vocal turn here, with psychedelic echo trailing her every phrase. The track blends seamlessly into "Just Like You," which opens with a drum solo that emerges from near silence and swells to a thunderhead of percussion.
Of course, the rest of Birdhead is equally excellent, with no shortage of creativity in composition and musicality. Join Toth and his Lazybirds at their CD release party on Friday, April 20, at the FlynnSpace.