S. Victor Aaron’s Review of REACH

Jeff Oster brings his singular blend of new age, jazz, ambient and groove to virtually every project he leads. That doesn’t mean he won’t bring something new to the table to give followers of this trumpet and flugelhorn maestro something new to look forward to. For Reach (October 5, 2018), that secret weapon is Mr. Ruslan Sirota, a Grammy-winning pianist and composer who is probably best known as a long time member and collaborator in Stanley Clarke’s band. Sirota is a major figure on Reach, lending not only keys, vocals and other instruments, but also co-composing the tunes with Oster and producing the whole danged thing.

That might suggest that Reach should have been co-credited to him, but Sirota’s big footprint makes this no less a Jeff Oster album. The best part about his involvement is he uses his talents to accentuate, not overtake, Oster. The formula here remains a familiar one, it’s Oster’s just-right mixture of the smooth, ethereal, exotic and groove-laden, with a world fusion twist thrown in here and there for good measure. It sounds just a little more refined, now.

The distant, frame drums and softly tinkling piano provide the right context on “Onward” for Oster’s celestially floating flugelhorn. Oster’s horn resonance “Far Rockaway” leads a dreamy soundscape but Sirota’s piano takes a pretty turn on piano for the brightest spot of the song.

The ‘groove’ part of Oster’s repertoire gets going with “Le Caveau,” but interestingly, not with such obvious tactics such as a finger popping bass or a heaping help of synths but rather a core pulse consisting of Benjamin J. Shepherd’s standup bass, Robyn Ghosh’s acoustic guitar and Tamir Barzilay’s rollicking drums.

“Five Great Mountains” also has a good beat going but features echoes of India thanks to Jenni Asher’s erhu and Pete Korpela’s tabla. Introspection returns with “The Lotus Within,” a repeating figure with a cadence Barzilay carefully modulates without fanfare with his drums.

“Troppo y Boffo” is a blissful mixture of old and new: a rich, flamenco-styled chord progression pushed by a bass ‘n’ drums pulse. And Oster just glides between these two worlds like there are no fences between them. “How Familiar” opens with a blossoming of instruments, settles into a gait and gathers momentum that halts mid-song with a single note from Oster that dissipates into the sonic ether.

“Velvet and Smoke” is a good way to describe the brushed beat and the lustrous, collectively spacious sound created from Sirota’s sensitive production. And lastly, “The Pink City” isn’t free jazz, but everyone plays just as freely, not bound to any time signature and Oster cutting loose on a flurry of notes to put an exclamation point on his improvising.

Thanks to Ruslan Sirota’s lush but not overly slick production that does a terrific job at separation, Reach passes the headphone test with flying colors. Consequentially, it becomes even easier to appreciate the chilled aura of Jeff Oster’s art. Order your copy of Reach from Bandcamp.

S. Victor Aaron

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