Cory Healey’s Beautiful Sunshine Band – Beautiful Sunshine – Shifting Paradigm

Forecast calls for modern jazz which traverses many influences.

Cory Healey’s Beautiful Sunshine Band – Beautiful Sunshine [TrackList follows] Shifting Paradigm SP-117, 58:06 [4/17/16] ****:

(Cory Healey – drums, electronics, AM radio; Erik Fratzke – electric bass; Zacc Harris – guitar; Jake Baldwin – trumpet; Brandon Wozniak – tenor saxophone)

With a band and an album title called Beautiful Sunshine, listeners might expect covers of Stevie Wonder’s “You Are My Sunshine” or the standard “Smile.” But drummer/composer Cory Healey is just having some fun. This isn’t overtly bright material, but rather modern, comprehensive instrumental jazz which melds bebop, free jazz, ambient moments, rock, indie pop and more. This is music which swerves like a car on an icy road, sometimes in a straight line and sometimes veering wildly.

Healey explains, “The name Beautiful Sunshine is tongue in cheek, considering how dark some of the pieces get. The overall theme is that the music is approached with a sense of humor and playfulness.” The story goes that on a cold, April 2014 evening Healey and his new band were performing at a Minneapolis venue, and he decided his group should have a name like “Unique Beautiful Snowflake.” An audience member asked for something closer to sunshine, and the ensemble henceforth was designated Cory Healey’s Beautiful Sunshine Band. The quintet introduces some of the Twin Cities finest players, with Healey on drums, electronics and AM radio; electric bassist Erik Fratzke; electric guitarist Zacc Harris; trumpeter Jake Baldwin and tenor saxophonist Brandon Wozniak. Healey has worked in Fareed Haque’s Flat Earth Ensemble, and has performed with Kenny Wheeler, Lonnie Smith and John Abercrombie. The others have extensive credits as well.

The hour-long, 11-track outing careens with energy, sometimes rocking with distorted guitars and pummeled percussion.  Other times the music swings like a Blue Note session. Opener “Ubiquitous Condiments” begins with a pistol-paced bass and drums intro, followed by unison trumpet/sax, but soon after the theme enters, things go haywire in a good way, as improvisation takes over and electronic tidbits are interspersed with the other instruments. “Ubiquitous Condiments” is a bit disconcerting as it bends toward traditionalism and as suddenly pivots away. “Ralphy” holds a wider swath, listing from a moody ballad-like area to a more feverish feel, intensified by Wozniak’s soloing, which evokes John Coltrane’s interstellar mannerism. The contemporary bebop influences can be heard on “Aragon,” which is like a 1940s bop standard curved and inverted, and is driven by Baldwin’s trumpet lines, Healey’s drums and a funky Fratzke bass solo. Healey’s yawing rhythms keep the ensemble on their toes. Healey’s enjoyment of metal/rock music rears up on several tunes, including the opaque “Omens,” which commences with a stop-start movement, then shifts to a discomfiting midsection with lingering guitar riffs, supportive bass and Wozniak’s roaming sax, while electronic effects grace the track’s undercarriage, providing a noir-ish undertone. There’s a dim undertow to “Wintry Mix,” highlighted by a skittish beat. Healey clarifies the tongue-in-cheek title refers to when “weather people say it’s going to be a ‘wintery mix.’ There’s kind of a collective groan let across the state.” The piece’s edgy arrangement certainly hints at quickly adjusting patterns, weather and otherwise.

Healey’s inspirations are widespread and open-minded. The harmonically rich “Wheel” was penned as a tribute to trumpeter Kenny Wheeler (who passed away in 2014), after Healey performed on stage with Wheeler. Healey states, “I wanted to explore some of the harmonic ideas that I heard in [his] tunes during the gig. It was a life-changing experience playing with him, which made me hear new things in the harmony.” The melodic cut is underpinned by Harris’ nimble guitar lines, Fratzke and Healey’s interaction, and toward the conclusion, some excellent horn exchanges. There’s a brief, electronica-laced reprise, titled “Wheel Remix,” which ends the album, and showcases a different perspective on the tune’s main motif. Healey’s two covers also display his inclusive musical likes. He puts auditory weight as well as contrasting melodic sweetness in his reading of the 2011 hit, “Cheerleader,” by indie pop band St. Vincent. Healey pinpoints the original’s sense of tension, and accentuates it with the horns and guitar, which take the place of vocals. One of the best tracks is an extended, seven-minute interpretation of Bob Dylan’s enigmatic “With God On Our Side,” which is decorated by Healey’s animated, sliding percussive effects, Harris and Baldwin’s succinct rapport, and an exacting build-up from quiet melodicism to a raucous finish.

TrackList: Ubiquitous Condiments; Ralphy; Cheerleader; Aragon; Wintry Mix; Wheel; Omens; Jerry’s DX; Last Thursday; With God On Our Side; Wheel Remix.

—Doug Simpson

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