Safety Squad is a super-group of some of Columbus’ finest young musicians inspired by the music and spirit of Grammy-winning modern jazz masterminds Snarky Puppy. Founded in April 2015 by keyboardist Danny Bauer, the band has played gigs and developed its own book of tunes over the past year, a process which has now resulted in their self-titled debut album. Primarily recorded at John Schwab Recording Studio on March 30th, the album is comprised of six Bauer originals that are sometimes reminiscent of Snarky Puppy material, but speak with the voice of Bauer and his talented ensemble. Safety Squad will celebrate with a CD Release Party at Woodlands Tavern on Wednesday, April 13th (9pm doors), featuring an opening set by Cleveland progressive rock band Paper Morning. Tickets are available here. Keep reading for my thoughts on the album and an audio/video sampler:
From the horn section’s opening riff on album opener “Junkyard Jam,” one of the most primary elements of the album is the full and lush spectrum of sound generated by the ~10-piece outfit. With two keyboardists (using a total of 6 keyboards), two guitarists, two trumpets, one saxophonist, one bassist, a drummer and a percussionist, the focal points are reinforced and the possibilities are endless. The opener is something of an epic journey of its own, with the swaggering horns giving way to shredding from Zakk Jones on guitar and Bauer on Rhodes and Moog before Andrew Willard establishes the jammy final section of the tune with a crunchy Clavinet solo. After “The Bestest Mensch” peaks in a Moog-fueled future jam, “La Fiesta De Trineo” changes the groove with something of a neon 1980’s Latin vibe, powered by John Allen’s slinky bass and the heat of the horn section, including trading leads between trumpeter Aroh Pandit and tenor saxophonist Justin Dickson.
The sunny “Wild Ohio” (a reference to the site of the band’s live debut, Brothers Drake) twists, turns and crackles, churning up solos from Jones and violinist Chase Potter, on his lone album appearance, before a thunderous conclusion. True to its title, “Looking Back” is the most reflective and subdued of the bunch, especially Dickson’s poignant soprano sax, Pandit’s smoky trumpet and a dual guitar passage from Jones and Jordan Millisor, but the pyrotechnics of the full band are never far away. Finale “The Unified Balance” starts as a guitar-laden rock jam, then ventures into warm fusion waters, highlighted by Willard’s emphatic talkbox solo work, before Willard starts a winding outro section with a wordless chorus that the band eventually joins for an emotional ending. While it definitely serves its purpose as an introduction to the band and its mission, here Safety Squad has produced a debut recording that has enough style, virtuosity, and passion to please anyone with an interest in worldly modern jazz.
If you can’t attend the release party, stay tuned to dannybauer.com for album purchase details. Here is a live recording of “The Bestest Mensch” for the band’s submission to the NPR Tiny Desk Concert contest, along with a stream of “Wild Ohio”: