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Fontanelle is a four piece band with guitars, keyboards and drums, featuring two people who used to be in Jessamine. They play off each other in a rhythmic way which sounds improvisational but still has a certain form to it. The music is really atmospheric, with lots of space between the notes. All of this helps add up to what has been a big stumbling block for me with Fontanelle: the Miles factor.

The first song on Fontanelle’s debut, self-titled CD sounds so much like something off of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew or In a Silent Way that I kept waiting for Miles’ trumpet to come shining through. Actually, a lot of this CD sounds like that period of Miles, but without any dominant instrument.

So much of this reminds of Miles Davis that, for a while, it just made me want to put one of his albums on. Eventually, though, I got past the first three tracks and started to realize the gentle beauty that exists in much of this album. As the album proceeds, Miles’ presence is diminished and a more original sound bubbles up. The last three songs (of six) are especially impressive to me. “Telephone Fade” has a really soulful, almost funk-oriented feel to it, and “29th & Going” uses repetition to create a nicely meditative atmosphere. The final track, “Counterweight,” has this great spooky intensity to it that makes me pause and listen closer every time.

Even the songs that seem less original really showcase the talented playing of these four musicians. All of the instrumentalists have an equal voice here. They each have distinct ways of playing that add up to a complex, always-interesting sound. At first Fontanelle sounded to me like a talented band retreading the past, a group that would be fun to watch live but isn’t too exciting on record. The more I listen, though, the more this album reveals itself. Sure, some of their influences are right out in the open, but overall Fontanelle play with a ton of subtlety and depth, and enough originality to make this a worthwhile experience.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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