Jeff CoffinJeff Coffin
On Friday, Jeff Coffin’s Mu’tet is coming to Barking Legs. What is a mu’tet? In short, it’s whatever Coffin decides it is for a given gig. On the live album released last year, it’s a seven-piece ensemble drawing in equal measure from Miles Davis, Weather Report and James Brown’s groundbreaking 1970s funk band. Caught live in 2010 and 2011, Kofi Burbridge and Chris Walters’ loose, airy keyboards evoke early Weather Report. And while Bill Fanning and Coffin’s punchy brass lines mix Miles and Brown, Felix Pastorious’ liquidly serpentine bass keeps it all in the family.
If there’s ever been a reason to make your way to the 120-seat Barking Legs venue, the opportunity to hear Pastorious in his prime is it. His rubbery leads leave no doubt that he’s the son of the legendary Jaco Pastorious, the man responsible for transforming the role of the bass from support to lead. On the live album’s opening track, “Tag,” the younger Pastorious’ prodding, pulsing lines are (in every sense) an aggressively electric counterpoint to Coffin’s furious tenor. The fact that drummer Jeff Sipe, no slouch himself, spends much of the tune darting in and around Pastorious, testifies to the young bass player’s inexorable drive. He has Bootsy Collins’ big funky tone, along with his father’s elastic flexibility. It sounds like Weather Report meets Funkadelic.
The second tune on the live album, “Al’s Greens,” a track from Coffin’s last studio album, is here stretched to twice its original length. It opens with slinky, tinkly, electric keys playing a Zawinul-ish “Bitches Brew” wash over Sipe’s gentle percussion and Pastorious’ fleshy throb. Steady as a ticking clock, they develop a sense of tense anticipation broken by Burbridge, who creeps into the mix, playing short, Roland Kirk-ish, chicken-pecking phrases on his flute as Coffin scribbles behind him on the tenor. The two ride the rolling rhythm like—well, like Al Green. It’s sweet, with a wicked groove.
By the time they hit the third tune in the set they are rolling. Like Bela Fleck’s Flecktones (with whom Coffin played from 1997 until 2010), the bass leads. With Pastorious providing a dependably agile anchor, Sipe is free to roam. The result is a heady, punchy sound, with Sipe’s powerful Clyde Stubblefield-style stick work providing a powerful updraft that lifts the horns and keys into spiraling free flight.
When he’s not playing with the Mu’tet, Coffin plays sax in the Dave Matthews Band, whose funky, free-wheeling drive has been absorbed by the Mu’tet. Coffin initially played with DMB in 2008 as a substitute for LeRoi Moore, who was injured in an accident in the summer of 2008. Following Moore’s death, Coffin joined the band full-time. In a 2010 interview on the Cold Jazz blog, he talked about his experience as a player in two very different bands—the Flecktones and DMB.
“I’ve learned a lot from being around two great leaders … being around Bela and also being around Dave, ” he said. “They both lead by sort of not leading, which is an interesting way to do things, and very effective obviously, by trusting the musicians and allowing the musicians to be creative and feel like they’re an enormous part of what’s going on, because they are.”
Listening to Coffin’s work on the live album underscores his democratic approach. It doesn’t sound like Coffin with his band, but Coffin in his band, just one voice among equals. The term “Mu’tet” is derived from mutation, a reflection of Coffin’s belief that music must evolve and grow. The band’s shifting cast of musicians further reflects that philosophy. The Mu’tet coming to Barking Legs on Friday is a slightly smaller version of the band on the live album. Featuring Coffin with Pastorious, Fanning, Walters, and drummer Derico Watson, this mu’tet will be hot.
Jeff Coffin’s Mu’tet
$12 advance/$15 door
Friday, April 13
Barking Legs Theatre - 1307 Dodds Ave.
(423) 624-5347 barkinglegs.org
Richard Winham is the host and producer of WUTC-FM’s afternoon music program and has observed the Chattanooga music scene for more than 25 years.