When reading about the Seattle band High Pulp, they might come across as unrefined. Drummer Bobby Granfelt admits they “never had an academic approach to jazz – most of us grew up playing in DIY bands”. While the DIY tag carries connotations of bedroom production-style quality meant to magnify warts and all, the band’s album Pursuit of Ends swats away that perception. “So it was the rawness and the energy and the absolute freedom of the music that called to us in the first place,” continues Granfelt. In this sense, High Pulp’s idea of freedom isn’t some Ornette Coleman fantasy where things get thrown at the wall. Pursuit of Ends isn’t craziness piled on top of more craziness. More simply, they don’t feel the need to stick to one person’s idea of what jazz should be.
In addition to Granfelt, Rob Homan and Antoine Martel are credited with numerous keyboard instruments, including Moogs, Hammond organs, Nords, and Korgs. Scott Rixon plays bass and guitar, Andrew Morrill handles the alto saxophone, and Victory Nguyen takes tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, trumpet, and flute. With that much talent on hand, you wouldn’t think High Pulp would need guest performers, yet they make room for four of them. Harpist Brandee Younger played with Ravi Coltrane, and keyboardist Jacob Mann has done work for Rufus Wainwright. Trumpeter Theo Croker has been nominated for a GRAMMY, and saxophonist Jaleel Shaw played in the Mingus Big Band. It hardly sounds like some overstuffed star-studded affair when one listens to Pursuit of Ends. Even when aided by four additional horn players and a guitar player, High Pulp sound like a professionally-unified band far removed from any DIY origins.
The opener, “Ceremony”, is a welcome blend of modern jazz rhythms and delicate electronics, sounding a little too relaxed to be bop but, at the same time, too energetic to be ambient. Granfelt keeps up a two-beat hit while the horns break away and mimic the pattern but one beat removed. “All Roads Lead to Los Angeles”, a showcase for Shaw’s abilities, is pure fusion magic. Imagine Weather Report with a hotter flame being held to their heels. Shaw’s solo certainly revs up unlike anything Wayne Shorter tried in the ‘80s, and High Pulp adjusts accordingly with gathering storm clouds.
“Kamishinjo” is an intriguingly mysterious piece of funk on its own, so it hardly needed Mann’s synthesizer expertise to make it better. His solo is, at worst, a nice afterthought. In contrast, Younger’s harp sets the mood for “Wax Hands” from the start. Her flourishes blend surprisingly well with the crisscrossing of the horns, though the track’s conclusion is pleasantly abrupt. Croker gets the last word on the concluding song, “You’ve Got to Pull It Up From the Ground”. Despite Granfelt’s tricky rhythms in the background, the team of trumpets makes a decent impression of Jon Hassell had he decided to join a post-bop outfit.
High Pulp don’t really need outside talent to shine, as I hinted at before. Considering that Seattle tends to be musically remembered for very different reasons and that none of the band’s members are “trained” in the traditional sense, Pursuit of Ends is a surprisingly great little album. If you want funk, they got “Blaming Mercury.” If you want to zone out in outer space, ‘70s style, there’s “Window to the Shimmering World.” If you want something set to a low boil while still letting your knees bounce, then check out “Chemical X”. Sometimes, albums like this can only be made by “outsiders”.