Trumpeter-composer Jeremy Pelt has been trying for years now to add some 21st-century shine to the godhead funky-fusion jazz formula minted by Miles Davis on Bitches Brew. Portions of Water and Earth demonstrate brilliant progress in that quest.
“Boom Bishop,” track four, is the pole star. After 45-seconds of palette-cleansing razz-a-ma-tazz goes quiet, David Bryant’s throbbing Fender Rhodes wafts up, Burniss Earl Travis plies the electric bass, and drummer Dana Hawkins starts laying down ground fire that would do Miles’s prodigious time-keeper Tony Williams proud. Roxy Coss is by turns elliptical and angular in her tenor solo, and then, more than three minutes in, Pelt arrives. His trumpet, altered by electronic effects, escalates in intensity, hits a wah-wah fever of modulation, and then exits with some Miles-ian tonal Nerf balls.
There are other strong tunes in this vein, such as “Prior Convictions,” which features Frank LoCrasto on Fender and Prophet keyboards while Bryant moves over to a Hammond B-3 organ. A “Dreams”-themed triptych includes the gossamer march-funk of “In Dreams,” and a compelling blend of neo-bop and Bitches fusion named “Pieces of a Dream.” The ballad “Butterfly Dreams” is a starburst closer that Pelt bends beautifully with the persistent patience of a woodworker.
Five years ago, Pelt released a live album with his electric group Wired entitled Shock Value because the bop purists who correctly regard the trumpeter as a superb bop stylist were shocked he’d take up fusion so blatantly. After that, Pelt assembled one of the deeper, creatively synergistic neo-bop quintets of the past decade, for a stirring, highly-praised four-album run. Now he’s back to plugging in, delivering better shocks than he did before. He’s still in his 30s, and a high-powered future awaits.