As she made plain on her 2018 debut Fullmoon, Canadian-born, New York-based Steph Richards is a virtuoso of otherworldly trumpet sound. So when Supersense, her fourth album, begins with what sounds like the guttural thrum of a didgeridoo, we know that it’s Richards, using pedal tones and extreme articulation to transform the sound of her horn.
What moves “Underbelly,” the album’s opening track, to a different level is the way the rest of her quartet follows her lead. Pianist Jason Moran dampens the strings of his piano to give it a darkly percussive attack; bassist Stomu Takeishi does something similar to his bass, so its sound rustles rather than booms; meanwhile, Kenny Wollesen’s percussion clanks and rattles like a plumber’s leftovers, extending the dull-thrumming groove. It’s all about texture, yes, but it’s also about the way texture helps articulate groove. And groove is at the heart of Supersense.
Not that this is funky jazz in any normal sense. Although the playing, particularly on the title tune, emphasizes syncopation, it’s also much further out harmonically than funk ever gets. At its best, it’s as if one part of the music is connected to your booty and the other to your brain, with extreme stimulation on both ends. Not since the early days of the Art Ensemble of Chicago has “out” felt so inside.
Moran is a key player here, fleshing things out harmonically and generally providing a rhythmic anchor for the others’ extrapolations. Wollesen’s drumming is, as ever, as colorful as it is lyrical, while Takeishi’s bass playing makes deft use of the instrument’s timbral range to maximize the rhythmic aspect of his role. As for Richards, her unorthodox approach continues to make the trumpet seem infinitely expressive, a Technicolor instrument that others insist on playing in black-and-white.