The album is named for a sci-fi novel involving five-dimensional cubes and time travel, and the cover art features the musicians wearing helmets that suggest they’re either prepping for a motorcycle rally in 2049 or mocking Daft Punk. But the music on Oofth, the debut record from Italian tenor saxophonist Massimiliano Milesi’s quartet, is very much of the present. With Emanuele Maniscalco on Wurlitzer electric piano and synthesizers, Giacomo Papetti on electric bass, and Filippo Sala on drums, Milesi has feet in both acoustic and electric realms, and in both jazz and rock.
Despite the futuristic posturing, the seven tracks on Oofth aren’t that stylistically different from what many of Milesi’s peers are doing these days. Electronics color the aesthetic, and beats are derived from modern dance music. A synth burbles and a sheen of white noise cascades over “Doppler” after its childlike lullaby abruptly halts. Krautrock bands were doing this 50 years ago, around the same time Miles Davis was making jazz safe for distorted electric pianos. But if Milesi’s aesthetic isn’t as groundbreaking as the album’s trappings suggest, he does have his vision.
These seven songs are aimed at the brain and the feet, not the heart. They don’t hit emotionally, but they’re sonically interesting. “I Have No Words”—a really nice tune, with unexpected minor chords and an intensifying structure—contrasts skittery drumming with languid sax lines. “Redshift” builds like a great, slow rock song, and “Tibbish Tizzp”—propelled by a muscular bass line and throbbing drums—races along like a mix of modern heavy metal and early fusion. “Ifth” is lighter fare, softer but not sentimental (certainly not with its midsong electric gurgling), and “The Slide Rock-Bolter” is ’80s-rockish, its bass guitar opening recalling the Icicle Works hit “Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream).” Milesi’s playing is lovely throughout, though he’s mostly restrained, so it’s too early to say whether he’s developing a voice to go with his vision. But he’s off to a promising start.