There’s no indication on the press materials for Negative Press Project’s latest, er, project The Victorious Sessions as to why the Bay Area ensemble’s founders, bassist/composer Andrew Lion and Salvadoran-American pianist/composer Ruthie Dineen, chose that offbeat moniker. But once listeners get beyond the quirky mixed attitudes of seeing the contradictory words “negative” and “victorious” at the top and bottom of the illustrated human heart on the album cover, they’ll realize it somehow all makes sense.
Crafting exhilarating, heartfelt pieces, the duo – joined by Mexican-American guitarist Luic Salcedo and top notch local horn players and rhythm section – exuberantly explores life’s triumphs, tragedies, natural quirkiness and odd angles, fusing elements of rock, jazz, classical and touches of hypnotic world music. Those as yet unfamiliar with Negative Press Project should know that one of their three previous recordings was Eternal Life – Jeff Buckley Songs and Sounds, a multi-faceted tribute to the late great singer songwriter which received a four star review in Downbeat.
Though he’s obviously lesser known, the opening track “Victorious” pays loving, freewheeling tribute to another musician dear to the NPP – Victory Mulhaney, a promising young Bay Area drummer whose life and promising career were cut short by an act of random violence. At the start of the expansive seven-and-a-half minute piece, there’s a bit of cacophonous confusion and melancholy – but that soon gives way to a spirited, percussive energy, soaring horn harmonies, Salcedo’s passionate electric solo and a soaring fire that musically captures the idea of a soul flying free.
Though perhaps less poignant in origin, a few of the other tracks of the album emerge from fascinating inspirations. The boisterous propulsive, hard grooving horn fiesta “Chant” gets pretty wild, but its essence is based on the cadence of a Nichiren Buddhist chant about the uncommon generosity and protection of the universe as we find healing through spirituality and community. Perhaps the most intriguing is “Birds of Amagon Hula,” the album’s lead single, which begins with the chipper sounds of high pitched bird calls referencing a natural sanctuary for birds in Israel, a spot where the birds stop on their migration between Europe and Africa.
As we listen to this playfully lyrical, solo clarinet and trumpet spiced tune, the image of a natural sanctuary stands in hopeful stark contrast to horrific current events in the region. Another gem is the classical flavored romp “Table For Three,” which matches Dineen’s edgy, percussive chords and whimsical improvisations with the haunting shade of Mia Pixley’s tender cello. Negative Press Project’s aforementioned thing for unique angles comes to life on the funky, brassy, high energy adventure “Squares” and the sly, tightly grooving “Hexagons,” featuring one of the project’s most surreal sax solos.