Still in his early thirties, Joe De Vita’s musical passport is worn and battered, with plenty of stamps and double-backs on it. Previously, this was nothing unusual for a jazz musician, but these days many of them seem to travel smoothly from college to first hire, and then band by band through the swing machine.
Joe’s route-map suggests a more uneven history: checking into and dropping out of music schools across America; mysterious flits from assorted cities; travels through various non-jazz settings (singer-songwriter backup gigs, grindcore bands) en route. Whether he’s releasing music as Shuttlecock or under his own name, Joe’s recordings tend to find him all alone with his guitars, his Casio keyboards and his electronic sound-kit. Is this down to a reluctance to settle into a long-term slot, or perhaps deeper trouble? Time was when this kind of thing was a hallmark of particularly creative jazz musicians: but as Joe’s happy to make the most of it in his own bio, embracing a misfit jazz-punk status, it could just as easily be spin. (Although any musician who’s irreverent enough to release consecutive albums called ‘Reflect’ and ‘Punk Rock Abs’ is worth checking out).
Ancestral Language – a promo single from Joe’s third album ‘Evolution’ – isn’t providing an answer. In itself, it’s pretty accessible – it looks back around forty years to the impressionistic, anticipatory grooves of the late ’60s and early ’70s when Miles Davis, Teo Macero and Weather Report were pushing aside bebop and cool jazz in order to open out a kind of multicultural cosmic funk. Kicking off with a twang of berimbau, it layers up: the patter and slap of frame drums and shakers, the sidelong clunk of a jazz bass, holding its anchor-and-push carefully in reserve; the glint and jags of electric keyboard, restlessly shifting its grip and shifting the chords. If there’s a real band in here, then Joe’s less of the uncomfortable lone gunman than he suggests. If there isn’t, and it’s all software trickery, then at least he has a knack for knowing where all the parts ought to go – at the very least, there’s a full live feel here.
From initial swells of wall-hanging chords, Joe’s guitar eventually takes the lead while staying back. Lurking deep in the mix, distant and bluesy, it has that saxophone-in-a-subway sound: not subdued, but a little cagey. As the tune moves on, more punctuation is worked into the structure – tonks of ever-steadier electric piano, keystroke clinks looped as a digital-age percussion touch. Two-thirds of the way in, Joe begins to wrench gently at his own melodic line, with a promise of further squalls in the evening, but (teasingly) Ancestral Language fades out before we can get that far. A passing curlicue, sprayed onto the wall. Promising.
Joe De Vita: ‘Ancestral Language’
Daddy Tank Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Released: 25th June 2012