Futurefun (2013)

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"Mark Lettieri’s follow-up to 2011’s Knows is about quality over quantity. What started as a full 10 tracks simmered until it left a hearty stock of five. Of these, “Extraspecial” is their soul. A tender, laid-back groove of romantic contours (written, in fact, for wife Shalyn), it sports some precise picking over an intuitive rhythm section. The tune is emblematic in many ways, not least for its tasteful colors, pliant textures, and engaging developments. Thus highlighted, its Dallas groove elements blend gritty neo-soul with robust melodies. In the studio this track actually went on for almost twice as long, and from those jams were culled the “Intro” and “Outro” that bookend the album. Although both are squint-eyed freefalls, the latter’s straightforward, Clinton-esque funk contrasts beautifully with the former’s backwoods gospel sound.

'Catboy' kicks off the album proper. A weighted bass line anchors the track in a thoroughly enjoyable groove and launches Lettieri in crunchy, pyrotechnic lobs over inescapable slap-bass action. Originally conceived for Snarky Puppy, this track turned out to be more guitar-heavy than Lettieri’s mainstay outfit. The title track goes for a more seventies-rock-meets-indie-pop sound. A dollop of Joe Walsh and a dash of Mark Knopfler make this infusion flavorsome and smooth. It’s a gorgeous, radio-friendly ride that unravels an expansive compositional outlook with streamlined edges and glistening craftsmanship.

Futurefun dips its pen into even more eclectic ink in its second half. From Bill Frisell-inspired enigmas to less reserved tactics, there’s plenty to get nostalgic about. Yet even at its most forthright, the music is never confrontational. It explodes with a cool edge, but gives up its ghost with purpose and thematic vivacity. Strong, fluid playing keeps every motif in check, contrasting epic sensibilities with intimate reflections of childhood. In the latter vein, “Slugbug” takes the cake. Named for the game in which one punches a friend upon sighting a vintage VW Beetle, it brings to bear a detuned, heavier sound that pays further homage to King’s X by way of its D.C. go-go funk beat. “Stinger,” on the other hand, opens with a stretch of deserted highway and plunges into an acrobatic display from bass in this ballad-turned-firecracker.

Lettieri’s compositions are as diverse as his phenomenal sidemen, who represent some of the finest talent Texas has to offer, including drummers Robert “Sput” Searight (Snarky Puppy) and Jason Thomas (Roy Hargrove, Marcus Miller); bassists Braylon Lacy (Erykah Badu, Kirk Whalum), Wes Stephenson (Funky Knuckles), and Jeff Plant; keyboardists Caleb McCampbell (Funky Knuckles) and RC Williams (Badu); and percussionist TaRon Lockett (Badu). Lacy and Thomas comprise Lettieri’s live trio, and their simpatico is evident in spades. Above all, what distinguishes Lettieri’s compositions, especially in the hands of such capable personnel, is their cinematic charge. Like the compound titles, they embody an idiomatic montage. The result is a soundtrack without a film, waiting for the projection screen of your mind to drop."

-Tyran Grillo, ECM Reviews Oct. 9 2013

Personnel: Mark Lettieri (guitars) Caleb McCampbell & RC Williams (keyboards) Wes Stephenson, Jeff Plant & Braylon Lacy (bass) Robert Sput Searight & Jason JT Thomas (drums) TaRon Lockett (percussion)