According to his website, what flugelhorn player Jeff Oster offers up on his latest album, Next, is “New Age Ambient Funk.” In fact, he says he’s created it. I think that’s a pretty fair claim, but let’s also give a nod to the killer lineup he’s pulled into the studio to make it happen. We’re talking folks such add Nile Rodgers, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Chuck Rainey, Michael Manring, Ricky Kej, Tony Levin, Todd Boston, and Philip Aaberg, among others—and also got Will Ackerman to man the production helm. With that checklist of style squarely in place, Oster proceeds to get his smooth on and just seduce his listeners with gorgeous jazz stylings for the next hour. Next is about as far along the jazz spectrum as I willingly cover here at Hypnagogue, and perhaps has a toe or two over my usual line, but as a jazz/smooth jazz lover I am quite content to keep listening to it. Right off the bat we are massaged with Oster’s flugelhorn. A light touch of resonance gives depth to its consistently soft-at-the-edges sound. Purdie and Rainey expertly (of course) fill in the rhythm section on most tracks, handling everything from smooth funk to reggae tints with masterful ease. There’s just so much delicious ear candy happening here, courtesy of the guest players—when you’re not busy focusing on the way Oster’s horn sings. Like what, you ask? Well, Melissa Kaplan drops Eastern-flavored vocals into the incense smoke movement of “Night Train to Sofia.” Shambhu’s acoustic guitar quietly pairs with the horn on the stunningly beautiful “On Mother’s Day,” a piece that gains tons of emotional potency from its simple, clean setup. Notes from Tom Eaton’s Fender Rhodes twinkle, warble and shift on the groove-laden “Turn Left at San Pancho” (you’ll be whistling this all day). Todd Boston spins out sweet guitar licks in the middle of “Avenue D,” which is hands down my favorite track here. It’s a straight dose of feel-good with a 70s fusion jazz skin. On the other side of the coin, when you’re ready to have your heart broken, feel free to spin Oster’s cover of the Bonnie Raitt song “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” If ever there was a song waiting to be flugelhorned, this is it. The notes shuffle out, head down and heartfelt. Philip Aaberg’s piano packs some country-music flair at the edges, its trilling fills just upping the sense of last-call sadness. The closing track finds Oster and Ackerman in another white-backdrop scene, just two guys and their instruments
Next is a pleasure to drop into. It knows it’s cool and doesn’t overplay its hand. It’s happy to just lay out its vibe because it knows you’ll dig it and you’ll let it spin again when it’s done. Solid, pleasant, infectious, and quite deserving of its New Age Ambient Funk tag. If you’ve got even the slightest interest in jazz, nab this. Seriously tasty stuff.
Available from Jeff Oster’s web site.