The title of New York ensemble N to The Power’s debut release might read like that of some blockbuster cinematic eyesore from Michael Bay, and aside from that, spoken aloud, it might sound like “all too generous” – and that would be more than appropriate.
The ensemble of 10 members reconfigures slightly for each piece, the constants being bandleaders, composers, and producers Blake Leyh and Tony Jarvis. The two bring impressive credentials to the table. Emmy-winner Leyh served as music supervisor for the HBO series The Wire, while Jarvis, whose bass clarinet brings a genial tone to these works, has clocked in hours with ’80s punk-funk pioneers Tar Babies, and later the Dap-Kings, Phish, and others. Leyh and Jarvis also craft film scores together (and each dragged his daughter in on this “cool dad” affair – Ryoko on melodica, Kaya on cello).
N to the Power is a mathematical moniker, and so yes, polyrhythms abound and the architecture of their compositions is elaborate and precise. The formula they’re following is an ambitious fitting together of the minimalist school of their own New York City, the earthy, exploratory jazz of Chicago, Nigerian Afrobeat and New Orleans funk – all of which come together on the percolating “The God Particle”. The Afrobeat returns in a more muted form for the mesmerizing “Marrakesh Memosphere”, which Yusuke Yamamoto’s lovely vibraphone takes to a transcendental place. There are suggestions of space-rock and spaghetti Westerns on the furtive but inexorable “To the Jackpot”. The album closes on an extended, yet more placid, note with an adaptation of jazzman Bill Evans’ celebrated “Peace Piece”, from 1958. The solo piano meditation becomes a chamber-music work, the strings and woodwinds giving it more robust form, with a bit of lurching wooziness.
This wealth of worthy elements, the wisdom with which they’re woven together, and the approachability with which N to the Power present such advanced music, is where the generosity mentioned above lies. Music for the stroking of chins, or the shaking of tailfeathers? Both at once, if you wish, and aren’t worried about appearing undignified.