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Zach Brock and the Coffee Achievers: Chemistry

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Three recent jazz-violin releases, taken together, prove that jazz doesn’t care what instrument you play as long as you play it well. Zach Brock and SavoirFaire each go further afield stylistically than Diane Delin does, but her mastery of her aesthetic allows her album to beat their spottier outings.

Brock’s second album with the Coffee Achievers, Chemistry, brews up a cheery blend of jazz and pop-rock. Bright, comfortable melodies yield to precomposed thematic elaborations and solos, all played with great energy (as one might expect from the group’s name). Brock plays a regular violin and a five-string electric violin. He occasionally and entertainingly wields the latter in the manner of a rock god, while the keyboards of Sam Barsh and the acoustic and electric basses of Matt Wigton provide similarly novel timbres. But once the Coffee Achievers have established a melody, they seem content to stay close to it over extended periods, which makes their music appear to be searching in vain for direction. The one exception, “This Is Just,” uses postmodern lyrics and turn-on-a-dime music to tell a story; if Brock could serve more complex compounds like that, he’d have a headier brew on his hands.

SavoirFaire (nee Samuel Williams) indeed knows how to do his thing on the electric violin, as the amplification makes his tone stand out among his ensemble while not forcing him to sacrifice any sweetness of tone. That’s the most positive thing you can take away from Running Out of Time. Almost all the soloing here is fairly aimless noodling over changes. Even when SavoirFaire gets a hip-hop beat to play with on “One Inch Angels,” he can’t think of much to do beyond what he does in the first 10 seconds of his solo. Only “Aspen’s Woes,” a solo of lonely, flickering arpeggios, breaks the mold; it closes the album, making it both too little and too late.

As the title implies, Delin’s Duality has just two musicians: pianist Dennis Luxion, who has obviously been influenced by Bill Evans, and Delin, whose main spur to pursue jazz professionally was the Vanguard recordings of…Bill Evans. On Duality, most of which was composed by the duo, melancholy and sunniness alternate at medium tempos and without too much histrionics, although they do throw in a fun number called “Tangold” that proves that they can roll with a beat. Like Evans, Delin and Luxion work with the subtleties possible in that medium emotional range, throwing rhythmic accents at unexpected notes, beginning phrases early or ending them late and reaching for distant harmonies without disrupting the surface-level musical fabric. Befitting the album title, their obvious chemistry gives an extra spark to their invention, making Duality an excellent choice for those who like milder stuff with plenty of imagination.