By Jeff Cebulski
The Unknown New inkflies
Independent release, 2020
Paul Mutzabaugh – Electric bass, percussion, drum loops, nylon-string guitar, secondary guitars
Mike Pinto – Electric and synth guitars, baritone guitar
Chris Siebold – Lap steel and electric guitars
Jim Tashjian – Acoustic guitar
Rich Stitzel – Percussion, drum loop
Jon Deitemyer – Drums
Since its heyday from the mid-’70s into the 90s, guitar-centered fusion music that evolved from the progressive rock era still has its appeal to those attracted to the arty, angular excursions that moved a lot of us from rock toward jazz.
The local music craftsman Paul Mutzabaugh carries on that tradition in his The Unknown New, which brings together the wondrous guitar talents of Mike Pinto and Chris Siebold with their friends—creating occasional small collections of brilliant, endlessly pleasing tunes that feature these talents, under the expert production of Mutzabaugh.
Like their previous album, not many neighbors, Mutzabaugh’s compositions meld a bucolic sensibility with a progressive approach. The result is music that sounds arranged for jazz but is delivered with one foot in a highly produced post-rock motif. I refer most certainly to “me sana el fuego,” which is so good that I suspect Carlos Santana is figuring out how to steal it.
Mutzabaugh’s pairing of Mike Pinto and Chris Siebold is one of America’s need-to-know open secrets. On “me sana . . . ,” as Mutzabaugh beats out a funky bass line, Pinto establishes the melody within Siebold’s washes, then stands back as Siebold takes over with a slow-growing solo that climbs down and up the neck of his gonzo-tuned electric axe. Hard to listen to only once.
Plenty of moods prevail. The opener, “en route to a lost lake,” is a whimsical jaunt played by Pinto on electric and Siebold on lap steel in tandem, leading to a twangy expression from Pinto. The lead players are joined by acoustic master Jim Tashjian on three pieces, with Tashjian taking a solo on “de otro mar,” another Latin-esque excursion. Siebold plays the melody as Tashjian accompanies, Gilberto-like. Tashjian then delicately takes over, as Mutzabaugh fashions a softly textured background, courtesy of him and stalwart, flexible drummer, Jon Deitemyer.
The title cut begins chamber-like, Pinto and Tashjian setting the mood for Siebold, who climbs aboard with a short but intense lap steel statement. The music returns to the opening duo, once again answered by Siebold, whose solo rides arpeggiated heights. The tune’s tonal yin-yang demonstrates the strength of Mutzabaugh’s compositional chops.
The album’s final two pieces have fewer highs but no lows. “unexpected chains & chimneys” brings Pinto and Siebold back together in another lighthearted affair, and the production puts them in a left-right stereo arrangement that becomes two slices of melodic bread around a pleasing filler from Pinto. On “velleity’s charm,” Deitemyer begins with a dirge-like rhythm, before Tashjian, Siebold, and Mutzabaugh join in to offer the melody, something brighter than the dirge suggested. As pleasant as the music is, and with all due respect to the players, the song plods along a bit in comparison to the others. Siebold’s Clapton-tinged solo in closing helps end this remarkable, relatively brief album (38-plus minutes).
Paul Mutzabaugh has clearly established himself as a member of Chicago’s studio elite, and this labor of love never fails to satisfy the discerning listener. Let’s hope more is to come from The Unknown New, especially for those of us who enjoy guitar duos and sparkling production.
“Mr. C” is Jeff Cebulski, a jazz enthusiast and regular contributor to Chicago Jazz Magazine. Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.