Reading about Seattle band High Pulp, they might seem 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 label carries overtones of bedroom production-style quality intended to magnify warts and all, the band’s album pursuit of ends sweep away this perception. “So it was the brutality, the energy and the absolute freedom of the music that called us in the first place,” Granfelt continues. In this sense, High Pulp’s idea of freedom is not an Ornette Coleman fantasy where things are thrown against the wall. pursuit of ends isn’t that madness piled on more madness. Put simply, they don’t feel the need to stick to a 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 alto saxophone and Victory Nguyen plays tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, trumpet and flute. With so much talent on hand, you wouldn’t think High Pulp would need guest artists, but they make room for four of them. Harpist Brandee Younger played with Ravi Coltrane and keyboardist Jacob Mann worked for Rufus Wainwright. Trumpeter Theo Croker was nominated for a GRAMMY and saxophonist Jaleel Shaw performed in the Mingus Big Band. It barely feels like an overloaded star affair when you listen pursuit of ends. Even when aided by four additional horn players and a guitarist, High Pulp sound like a unified professional band far removed from any DIY origins.
The opener, “Ceremony”, is a welcome mix 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 maintains a two-beat stroke as the lugs stand out and mimic the pattern but down one beat. “All Roads Lead to Los Angeles,” a showcase of Shaw’s abilities, is pure fusion magic. Imagine Weather Report with a hotter flame held on their heels. Shaw’s solo certainly picks up speed unlike anything Wayne Shorter tried in the ’80s, and High Pulp adapts accordingly with the buildup of storm clouds.
“Kamishinjo” is an intriguing and mysterious piece of funk on its own, so it hardly needed Mann’s synth expertise to improve it. His solo is, at worst, a beautiful afterthought. In contrast, Younger’s harp sets the tone for “Wax Hands” right from the start. Its flourishes go surprisingly well with the criss-crossing horns, although the conclusion of the piece is pleasantly abrupt. Croker has the final say on the final song, “You’ve Got to Pull It Up From the Ground”. Despite Granfelt’s tricky beats in the background, the trumpet team makes a decent impression of Jon Hassell had he decided to join a post-bop crew.
High Pulp doesn’t really need outside talent to shine, as I’ve hinted before. Whereas Seattle tends to be remembered musically for very different reasons and none of the band members are “formed” in the traditional sense, pursuit of ends is a surprisingly great little album. If you want funk, they have “Blaming Mercury”. If you want to zone out in outer space, ’70s style, there’s “Window to the Shimmering World.” If you want something low-boil while letting your knees bounce, then check out “Chemical X”. Sometimes albums like this can only be made by “outsiders”.