Shades of the Headhunters, Weather Report, the Crusaders and, not surprisingly, Cannonball Adderley’s electric-jazz releases color the sound of Vincent Herring’s Earth Jazz Agents (here, minus the “Agents”), the gifted alto saxophonist’s working funk and fusion quartet. Yes, it all feels like a bit of a time warp, but the sonic setting hardly keeps the postbopper and his bandmates earthbound. To the contrary: Their work on Morning Star uses ’70s-style fusion and groove-jazz as a launching pad for some oft-intriguing work, built on textures and rhythms that come off as alternately smooth and rough—and that’s a compliment.
Coltrane’s “Naima” is reworked with a steadily churning backbeat, fueled by the snaking rhythms of bassist Richie Goods and drummer Joris Dudli, and Herring’s probing solo. Mulgrew Miller’s laidback funk stroll “Soul Leo,” spiked with slow-mo bass slapping and popping and pianist Anthony Wonsey’s warm electric piano and synthesizer, hints at Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” And Rodgers Grant’s title track is a pensive ballad.
But the band’s own compositions dominate the set, starting with Wonsey’s multicolored, segmented “Do You Remember Me?” and the sprawling, atmospheric “Black Fairytales,” a showcase for Herring’s sensitive soprano explorations. Wonsey gives his “The Thang” a deep-funk remix, replete with bluesy organ and wah-wah bass. Dudli contributes a pair of pieces, the rather sedate mid-tempo groover “Tom Tom” and “You Got Soul,” a gospel-tinged piece that sounds like a lost Ray Charles gem. Herring’s sole contribution, “Never Forget,” is relaxation in action, something that might be said about much of the album.