There is a convincing exigency to the rising tension of White Rocket’s “Mutatis Mutandis” that is refreshing. The pounding heave of Greg Felton’s piano, the oblique perplexity of Jacob Wick’s trumpet, and the sturdy pummel of Sean Carpio’s drums threaten to undo everything you thought you knew about jazz music. The song leaves in a murmur, but its memory is haunting.
In 2005, Dublin natives Felton and Carpio met inhuman New York trumpeter Jacob Wick at the Banff Centre for Jazz and Creative Music. After discovering a shared love for everything from Meshuggah to Nick Drake to Hindemith, they decided to form a trio.
The courageous, witty White Rocket is that trio and their self-titled debut is an enduring glimpse at their convergence of musical universes. Like spiraling stars, the music unfolds in composite patterns infused with sheen, exquisiteness, and splendid architectural luxury.
In many ways, Felton, Carpio, and Wick needed to unshackle themselves from the traditional standards of music. White Rocket took the tart cries from Wick’s trumpet, the sound giftedness of Felton’s internationally-trained piano, and the spirit of Carpio’s New Park Music School flair for percussion and came up with a pure and bold musical brew.
After the evocative notes of “Mutatis Mutandis” fade away, White Rocket takes things in a slightly more traditional direction with the rise of the Felton-arranged “His Story.” The instruments call sensitively and gradually before venturing into a distinctive jazz lounge step. Despite the familiarity, an undercurrent of risk runs beneath, creating a sense of adventure.
The solitary trumpet to introduce “Lonely Toad” is thoughtfully apt, invoking images of the titular creature calling out to a mate or perhaps a comrade. Felton’s piano delicately adds accompaniment, easing into the tune like another creature discovering our disconsolate toad. Carpio lightly touches the percussion, passing through like a pleasant waft through the reeds.
It is this ability to create scenery, both affectionate and awkward, that makes White Rocket such a treat.
Close your eyes when you listen to “Susan Styra.” Who (or what) is the title character? As the piano bounces around and the drums crash unevenly, it’s hard to resist forming a mental image. The song’s near-silence faintly before the halfway point argues for a breath or two, but the cheerful pace found in several minutes of Carpio’s vivacious drum solo will have you gasping for air.
With every dip and dive of this record, White Rocket revels in the freedom to take risks. The music is brave, gripping, reviving, and craftily fun. Felton, Carpio, and Wick have developed an exciting gathering of music that deserves several repeat spins.