Seriously typified by two essential factors – the tremendous precision of the arrangements, and the suave accent (a “Norah Jones-meets-Olivia Newton-John” kind of timbre) of singer Deborah Jordan, who might not be a vocal heavyweight but performs the parts with conscientious sensitiveness – The Cusp is a brilliantly conceived album by pianist and composer Robert Mitchell, his Panacea ensemble featuring the talents of bassist Tom Mason, drummer Shaney Forbes, percussionist Hammadi Valdez, violinist Julian Ferraretto and cellist Ben Davis. The leader is not afraid of experimenting, able as he is to write scores that move quite fluidly through slanted sorts of string-scented, unevenly pulsating funk executed with technical refinement and taste to spare. The musicians’ responsiveness to the composer’s ideas is palpable, either in the most classically-oriented performances (“The Blessing”, or the splendid “Quantum”) or during the zigzagging unpredictability of the initial “Essence” and “Aura”, whose only fault is that of creating the illusion of being in front of a thoroughly investigational record. It’s not – and, truth be told, a minor loss of steam occurs after the halfway mark, a couple of segments recalling what we usually associate with a slightly worn-out pop/jazz orthodoxy. Nonetheless, the effort remains legitimate and largely gratifying (except for HKB Finn’s rap in the title track, one should add), Mitchell’s piano mastery keeping things far away from facileness (case in point, the sophisticated “Lucid Dreamt”). A CD that definitely deserves more than a superficial listen, gifted with unpretentious flair and fundamentally honest.

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