I’m woefully ignorant of all things jazz-related. But then again, sometimes ignorance can be a gift—it creates an opportunity to listen without any preconceived notions getting in the way of the music. With that in mind, I settled back and turned up the volume on The Way Out’s eponymous debut album, which will be released on April 26th.
Self-described as “a seven-headed funk monster from Boston, MA,” The Way Out plays a fusion of instrumental funk, hip-hop, and jazz. They’ve been performing around Boston for two years in their current incarnation (Stefan Pescatore, bass; Shahan Nercessian, guitar/keys; Yas Fukami, trombone; Zach Meyer, alto saxophone; John Mason, tenor saxophone; Alan Manos, trumpet; Ben Bornstein, drums), with saxophonist Sam Kininger joining them for this album.
One thing that struck me was the fluidity of this band, both in regards to its music-making and the members themselves. Though The Way Out has only existed for two years, Manos explains “the core of this band has been making music for 10 years in different forms. Jazz and the improvisational element have always been a driving force in the music we have made over the years.” Like the music they play, it seems The Way Out embraces mutability and flux.
A first album must be intimidating to make. You’ve got to communicate your vision and demonstrate versatility while engaging with an unknown audience. Additionally, in a recording, it’s all too easy to iron out the raw energy that makes live shows so appealing. But from the very first number, appropriately titled “Wake Up,” this group showcases a tight-knit and energetic ensemble. Even the more introspective songs “Break My Heart” and “Maybe Say Maybe” maintain a sense of flow as they build slowly, their spare textures highlighting the conversation among the instrumentalists.
Admittedly, though, I feel the band is at its best in the faster-paced songs. A flurry of activity, “2 Down and 1 Across” features an infectious beat. The taut, almost hyperactive rhythms make me want to dance. My favorite on this album, “The 1 Bus,” is fortunately not as headache-inducing as its namesake, providing instead some lovely solos and lots of stylistic contrast.
I’d initially feared that an instrumental jazz fusion album would be inaccessible, or at least somewhat esoteric. Though this wasn’t the case, I did find myself missing the vocals, and the ensuing familiarity and explicitness they would have brought. Their absence forced me to latch onto melody, rhythms, and repetition, and I realized that by directing the focus onto these musical elements, The Way Out was allowing the music to speak for itself. They put it succinctly: “chord changes have more impact than words…they pull at deeper strings.”