This is moody and bouncy instrumental music, each track aiming at a specific feeling, Jim Duffy leading a small group from his 1960s Wurlitzer electric piano, drawing upon myriad influences with little fuss and a lot of fervor.
Jim Duffy, a Brooklyn-based composer and keyboardist, announces the release of "Pale Afternoon," his third full-length collection of moody and bouncy instrumental music.
The eleven tracks on "Pale Afternoon" each aim for a specific feeling. Duffy leads a small group from his 1960s Wurlitzer electric piano. Dennis Diken of the world- famous Smithereens is on drums, Paul Page, who tours the world with Ian Hunter, plays bass, and Lance Doss, who has toured and recorded with John Cale, plays guitar and lap steel.
"We made this record very quickly, over a long period of time," Duffy says. “We had minimal fuss and lot of fervor.”
The opening track, "Boulevard Six," careens forward in a minor-key groove in a 6/4 beat. From there, the tracks take sharp turns in mood and tempo. “Tenerife” has an aerodynamic, West Coast feel. On “Reverse Image,” Kevin Kendrick’s vibraphone provides icicle-like counter-melodies. “Sputare Il Rospo” hits hard at a quick pace, then Claire Daly’s baritone sax sends it over the top. After a few of these three-minute trips, you'll be ready to expect anything.
"Pale Afternoon" was recorded and mixed by Greg Duffin and Mario Viele at Cowboy Technical Services, in an analog format, recorded and mixed to tape. The tracks were mastered by Grammy-winning engineer Scott Hull. Warm and punchy is what it is.
Jim Duffy has long lurked behind various music scenes in New York, playing with some of the top performers in the rock, pop, jazz, ethnic and avant-garde worlds, including Freddie "Boom Boom" Cannon, Wanda Jackson, the Fleshtones, the Bottle Rockets, Sour Jazz, the Damnwells, Reid Paley, Will Rigby, Speedball Baby and the eight-piece Persian-style psychedelic funk band Mitra Sumara, among many others. He co-founded the ‘80s Boston band Rods and Cones, and in the ‘90s he played with the New York band Martin's Folly.
For "Pale Afternoon," he draws upon his myriad influences and inspirations and his address book of fellow musicians. When we twisted his arm, he agreed, "OK, this is the best batch yet."
Jim Duffy is one of New York’s most irrepressibly entertaining and individualistic keyboardists. He had a longtime gig with Americana rockers Martin’s Folly; these days he plays organ in the wildly psychedelic Mitra Sumara, who specialize in covers of classic/obscure Iranian art-funk hits from the 60s and 70s. But he’s also a distinguished songwriter in his own right. His third and latest instrumental album, ominously titled Pale Afternoon, is streaming at Spotify (there are also a bunch of tracks at soundcloud and youtube for those of you who can’t stop multitasking long enough to jump on that fader and ride it down to zero when the ads pop up).
The album opens with Boulevard Six, a dead ringer for a late 60s/early 70s Herbie Hancock movie theme in rambunctious 6/4 time, guitarist Lance Doss contributing a blue-flame solo. The way Duffy’s oscillating Wurlitzer electric piano riff fades into the terse resonance of trombonist Sam Kulik and baritone saxophonist Claire Daly is just insanely cool, like something Brian Jones would have overdubbed on Their Satanic Majesties Request.
Figurine is sort of a variation on the previous tune, a bittersweetly twinkling late-night stroll lowlit by Kevin Kendrick’s vibraphone. If Bryan & the Aardvarks had been a rock band, they would have sounded like this. Once again, Doss fires off a solo, this time channeling late 60s Mike Bloomfield.
The album’s title track turns out to be a slow, summery groove until Doss drifts into sunbaked, stately art-rock, pushing the song toward 70s Procol Harum territory. Duffy’s Fillmore Theme turns out to be a breezy, swinging number, part Bacharach bossa, part Free Design psych-pop, Duffy multitracking his rippling, upper-register Wurly along with lush, fluid organ.
Keep Keeping On is a soul waltz as Booker T might have done one circa 1967, or Quincy Jones might have on the In the Heat of the Night soundtrack, Paul Page’s bass bubbling over the washes of drummer Dennis Diken’s cymbals. The elegant Wurly clusters in Reverse Image are so close to the melody of Figurine that it begs a momentary switch between the two tracks, to see if Duffy is pulling something clever like doing that song backwards. As it turns out, no – they’re just both incredibly catchy, this one close to a goodnatured Big Lazy highway panorama without the exit into David Lynch territory.
Mission Creep is the album’s best and darkest track, Doss’ simmering lapsteel bringing to mind the Friends of Dean Martinez‘s Bill Elm doing something from Dark Side of the Moon. Then with Tenerife, the band return to a sunny Bacharachian backbeat spiced with Doss’ wry soul-jazz lines.
Duffy follows the gently allusive ballad We’ll Never Know (nice theremin impersonation there, dude) with Spurare Il Rospo (The Spitting Toad), a briskly tropical motorik theme that’s a dead ringer for Los Crema Paraiso. The album winds up with Evening Birds, an iconoclastic spin on a hallowed, funereal Floyd tune. Crank this at your next party and get the entire room dancing – ok, everything but that last song.
Fun and inspiring fact: Duffy is one of the few musicians to shift from being a first-rate bassist to an A-list keyboardist. And then put out one of the ten best albums of 2016, more or less.
Though Duffy traffics in a kind of melodic soul jazz – led primarily by his nimble and expressive way around a Wurlitzer EP200 – he has a pop sensibility that makes his music quite appealing to plain-old-rock and pop fans. His work on the electric piano is breathtakingly melodic: it’s both technically impressive and just plain catchy. Subtle use of horns and electric guitar lends the affair a kind of updated Booker T & the MGs vibe, and the unfailingly tasteful drums of The Smithereens‘ Dennis Diken are icing on the cake. Instrumental music rarely gets more accessible than this.
It’s funny how things go in cycles; what was once cool is soon not, but it can become vogue once again in time without explanation. Jim Duffy, with his third full-length album, takes yet another stab at the instrumental pop genre - something which appears to baffle some.
It’s a not a well known genre, nor could you say it's much loved. On the surface it sounds like elevator music, the kind of thing you’d find tootling away in the background at a bright and busy shopping centre in the 80s, or if you’re looking for a description which doesn’t make you run a mile, the kind of music which accompanies to more recent outings in the Mario Kart video game.
There is almost an art to this kind of music, the composition takes a lot more thought, resting on the change-up in melodies and conveyance of an emotion. It’s a good job Jim Duffy is no slouch then, hot to trot on his Wurlitzer electric piano he jaunts through an album of pop infused with many other genres.
From the exotic-pop feeling ‘Boulevard Six’ and ‘Tenerife’ to the laid-back lounge music feel of title track ‘Pale Afternoon’, electric piano takes centre stage, something many will find dull and grating. But with long, bending solos, and trumpets there is enough to make you fall for these songs.
Duffy is at his finest in the eerie ‘Mission Creep’ where his keys seem to descend down in the cellar/dungeon/cave, guided by topsy turvy candlelight. There isn’t enough of this flavour however, and it’s the sole criticism you could level at the album. Vulfpeck have funked this genre up with their efforts, imbuing pop-instrumentals with vim and vigour, while Duffy seems content to keep things more templated and evenly paced.
Even Vulfpeck failed to really break big with their music though, and that’s with the help of vocalists on their first full album. This might not mean much to Jim Duffy however, who seems dedicated to this most niche of crafts. He does what he does well enough that if you’re looking for some accompaniment music while you potter around the house, or while you hop in the shower, this might be just the thing you’ve been searching for.