It must be really hard to have a famous dad. It’s gotta be even harder if your dad is horror film icon and synthwave pioneer John Carpenter and you want to be a musician. If you’re like me, you’ll expect that Cody Carpenter likely grew up in a house full of synthesizers and would follow in his father’s footsteps, but this album is closer to something like the gleeful fusion of Herbie Hancock than a dread-filled horror score.
As soon as the first note of Interdependence hit me, I was transported back in time, neon style! ‘Retro analog synths’ mixed with ‘electric jazz improvisation’ and ‘video game music’ describe the essence and fun of the first track, “Jinrai Fuuretsu”, in a nutshell. “Face the Future” and “Overlooking the Divide” deliver even more jazz fusion improv, with some great fretless bass playing from Jimmy Haslip. The band are clearly well rehearsed and deliver very polished performances. This is something that you’ll either love or hate, as I’ll discuss later.
Cody has a history of composing a variety of music, but this expertise only appears now and again over the course of the whole album. A rare example is “The Divide”, which is a really interesting mix of vintage synth sounds with a film-score feeling and structure. It’s very different from anything else on the album and a break in the fusion widdly-ness. Although it piqued my interest at the start, it develops into another happy jazz fusion interlude with too much ‘sheen’ – very melodic, very upbeat, very harmonic, but very cheesy. “Heart of Slag” and “Thinking of What Might Be” are further filler tracks in too similar a vein. They both have some nice melodies and flawless performances but they follow a very familiar path and sound emotionless.
A little more of a jazz-rock feeling emerges towards the end of the album. “The Procession” reminds me of Coliseum II and ELP at times, but the track fails to ignite a spark and never really takes off. Other teasers like “Premonition” start with a darker sound palette but soon move into ‘happy-harmony land’ and just sound twee and out of date.
The standout final track, “Nebulous is the Power” (showcasing Virgil Donati), shows that a little more bite is possible within the confines of this genre. The performance has more emotion, is less polished (a first take maybe?) and it finally sounds that the band are really pumping. This fresh feeling is absent from the rest of the album, and therein lies the problem.
HAPPY, HAPPY, SLIGHTLY LESS JOY
Flawless performances from a band that is a who’s who of modern session musicians means that the whole thing feels like a film in soft-focus. Combined with the 200% soft cheese spread over every song and I was left with a taste that was too sickly-sweet to enjoy. It’s a shame, as Cody plainly has both the chops and the compositional ability to take his music in any direction he wishes, but seems to focus on this very specific style.
When looking back at jazz fusion, it’s easy to forget that although classic artists such as Weather Report, Coliseum II, Hancock and ELP went on misguided adventures into elevator music towards the end of their careers, they were also at the cutting edge of electric improvised music at the time. They pushed hard using new sounds and new structures, and took a more avant garde approach and created powerful statements, frequently pushing their performances to the limit. Play any of the classics by these artists at full volume and you’ll hear what I mean. It feels like Cody is attempting to emulate the sound of these bands without getting down and dirty and delivering the emotional power that is needed.
On the upside, listening to this album will put a smile on your face and the exemplary musicianship on display is impressive. If you’re in the mood for this style of music, it might work well, but for me, the effortless performances and unimaginative melodies didn’t sustain my interest. After repeated listens, I feel that the songs might work better in a live setting where the band can let loose. If Cody decides to go on tour, I anticipate that the shows will be killer!
The irony is, would I be listening to and reviewing this album if it didn’t have Cody Carpenter associated with it? Probably not.
Notable Tracks: “Jinrai Fuuretsu”; “Face the Future”; “Nebulous is the Power”
FFO: Megadrive, John Carpenter, Weather Report, 70’s era Herbie Hancock, ELP