Thursday 7 January 2021

'Familiar Future' by Dougie Stu


Rarely a year goes by where Ropeadope Records can't lay claim to having released some of the best contemporary jazz music bestowed upon audiences the world over.  And while the world has been incredibly keen to rush 2020 out of the door and move on to a year with more positivity, it was still a year with some genuine treasures - many of which bearing the Ropeadope name.  Via his Spirit Fingers super group, Greg Spero unveiled the collective's sophomore album, 'Peace', which was an absolute joy; New York-based improv jazz collective Bright Dog Red released their third genre-defying double disc effort 'Somethin' Comes Along'; the always exceptional trumpeter Christian Scott wowed listeners all over again with his wonderful 'Axiom' release... 

And in any conversation about some of Ropeadope's treasures of the year, 'Familiar Future' by Dougie Stu absolutely warrants inclusion amongst the best of them.

Bassist, multi-instrumentalist and producer Doug Stuart has paved the way remarkably well in the build up to his debut solo project.  Although having studied jazz at the University of Michigan, Stuart has maintained an incredibly eclectic résumé that has seen collaborations as diverse as him providing bass for the folk-esque stylings of Suzanne Vallie's 'Love Lives Where Rules Die' (2020) or the psychedelic pop of the Bells Atlas project 'the mystic' (2019).  And certainly not withstanding the future soul bliss of his project with vocalist Brijean Murphy under the joint name Brijean.  Already with the excellent 'Walkie Talkie' EP from 2019 under their belt, expectations are high for the imminent release of their full-length, 'Feelings'.

When taking all of these past releases into consideration however, 'Familiar Future' is very possibly not what people would have expected for Stuart's debut solo offering.  While the album may in fact subvert expectations though, Stuart has actually, very strategically, taken from his diverse appreciation for music and masterfully manages to use all of those elements to help ascend his vision of jazz to a completely new plateau.

Backed by a strong line-up of artists for the album, the project's core is comprised of International Anthem recording artist, guitarist Jeff Parker, drummer Hamir Atwal (Naytronix, Erik Jekabson Quintet) and piano and Rhodes by Maya Kronfeld (Georgia Anne Muldrow, Ennio Styles), there are also contributions from Crystal Pascucci and Shaina Evoniuk on cello and violin respectively, Steve Blum on synthesizer and Marcus Stephens on flute as well as others.

The lush, string-laden album opener 'Welcome' serves as our official invitation to the music that is about to manifest itself into Stuart's 'Familiar Future' - and with many of the compositions capturing this sublime dream-like state, as evidenced from Stuart's head-in-the-clouds album cover - it's just bliss going forward.  While tracks like 'Joyride', 'Henny', 'Nostalgia' and 'Familiar Future' all compete to be the album highlight, it's 'Wind Chaser' that absolutely steals the distinction.  Clocking in at a second under eight minutes, the song itself plays out like an epic quest continually evolving as it progresses along its narrative.

'Familiar Future' is an accomplished and inspired album and while Stuart's own quest through his various music projects will continue to excite listeners, we'll also patiently await the return of Dougie Stu and his cool-as-hell shades to let us know how the future is shaping up.

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