May 5 2014
It’s where saxophonist Ben Flocks is able to make old songs sound new and new songs sound indescribably familiar that renders his debut Battle Mountain an impressive success.
Originals like title-track “Battle Mountain” and “Eagle Rock,” though brand spanking new, possess wrinkles of age like stories from the soil. Both contemplative in nature, the former is an undercurrent of activity that lays back and roars its melody, whereas the latter track floats on by like big clouds across a lazy afternoon sky. They present strong melodies, thick as smoke, and a tendency to trail off in the most seductive curls and wisps.
As to the covers, Flocks reveals their identities with a stingy insistence, perpetually beguiling the ear into believing that it and the song have never before met. There is “Shenandoah” with its uneasy serenity and Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” which trades in the original’s darker edgier tones for a sunnier back porch optimism. Further evidence of Flocks’ confidence in giving his own personal voice to the songs of others are his renditions of the Buena Vista Social Club’s “Murmullo” and the jazz standard “Polkadots and Moonbeams.” Neither sound like the Cuban or G.A.S. inspirations of the originals, yet by embracing the melody of each and using that as his thematic lens, Flocks gets the heart of the songs pumping with his own sonic blood.
His 1960s R&B groove of “Boardwalk Boogaloo” and a zydeco-influenced rendition of Leadbelly’s “Silver City Bound” are other appealing aspects of this fine recording. They are tracks that romp their way through the blues, the celebratory nature of these songs serving as a nice counterbalance to the album’s languorous presence, lighting a fire under its feet without burning away any of the essential ingredients.
A terrifically enjoyable album with an exquisite tunefulness, and a confident expressive sound.
Your album personnel: Ben Flocks (tenor sax), Ari Chersky (guitar), Sam Reider (piano, Fender Rhodes, accordion), Garret Lang (bass), and Evan Hughes (drums).
The album is Self-Produced.
The nifty album cover art by Chris Elfving.
Jazz from the Brooklyn scene, though it’s worth noting that the artist states that this album was heavily influenced by his upbringing in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California.