Toymaker's Self-Titled New Album: Review and Stream

Jun 26, 2015 at 8:00 am

The nexus of jazz, jam and funk music has long been a rich intersection for instrumentalists; depending on which end of the spectrum a musician comes from, this type of fusion allows the freedom of improvisation or the stricture of patterns that slowly modulate with each repetition. Toymaker, an instrumental trio that just released its first, self-titled LP, takes liberally from both sides of that equation: The improvisational elements are earned only through a thorough exploration of each song's main theme.

Keyboardist Ryan Marquez (also of Fresh Heir) is the trio's sole melodic instrumentalist, so each song's lead lines fall on his rig, which favors a vibrant Fender Rhodes in the left hand and a buzzy monophonic synth in the right. But while his contributions remain suitably measured, his bandmates Christian Kirk (drums) and Matt Harris (bass) go further afield as each song progresses. The overall effect is pretty smooth, a little funky and plenty cosmic.

Kirk, who formerly played with local reggae/rock hybridizers Lojic, wastes no time introducing himself on opening track "Padded Room," using a flurried breakbeat to herald the album. He becomes the engine driver for most of these songs, using kinetic energy to double and re-double his efforts until his beats have sprung a few more limbs. Bassist Harris has done time with the winsome folk-rock group Dear Vincent, but here he's able to stretch out a bit. "Odd Purple" kicks off with a swoopy, languid bass line and Marquez's music-box piano plinks and squelchy synth parts. When the organ swells in the background, those same synth lines remain relatively staid, but the rhythm section kicks into overdrive with fancier fills and a few slapped-bass passages.

A ring modulator distorts Marquez's electric piano into atonal pings as Kirk's fills turn martial on "Backwards Walking Tiger," though even these distortions retain their lushness. The trio explores such textures in each song — tight and snappy drums, dark-tinted bass tones, analog keys — and the palette changes only in subtle ways. That leads to a certain similarity from track to track, especially since most tunes follow a familiar arc, but Toymaker's style of slightly cerebral grooves adds a new twist to the local funk/fusion scene.

Stream the album in full below:

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