According to that essential guide to contemporary American life UrbanDictionary.com, humblebrag means "subtly letting others now about how fantastic your life is while undercutting it with a bit of self-effacing humor." While Michael Feinberg's new Humblebrag album Live at 800 East is rife with subtle interplay and half-hidden sources of inspiration, there's nothing self-effacing about the bassist/composer's music. Slated for May 6, 2014 release on BeHip, the album features a stellar cast of young musicians powered by veteran drum master Terreon Gulley.
A rapidly rising force on the New York scene who also leads The Elvin Jones Project, Feinberg rechristened his band Humblebrag for the new album because the eponymous track that closes the album marked a new phase of his musical development. He's deadly serious about the music, but isn't particularly interested in making any grand statement about the state of the art form. Recorded live in-studio in Atlanta, Georgia, Feinberg's follow up to 2011's critically hailed debut With Many Hands captures the searing energy and unbridled imagination of smart young musicians deep in conversation with each other. "Naming tunes and bands, people want to sound so cool and edgy and mysterious," Feinberg says. "But it's just one little voice in the world."
Humblebrag's voice is wide-ranging, perpetually curious and not averse to funk and fusion. Writing the title track, Feinberg was thinking about his experiences playing with Re-Animation, trumpeter Tim Hagans' riff on the early electric music of Miles Davis. Built on a hypnotic five-note motif, the piece features dramatic orchestration, and the roiling but dynamically sensitive trap work by Gully, best known for his work with Christian McBride's funk-inflected electro-acoustic band. "Rock has always been a big part of my life," Feinberg says, "and this is my contemporary version of that."
If there's any chest-pounding going on in Humblebrag it's over the superlative quality of Feinberg's collaborators. Aside from Gully, a well-traveled player who came up two jazz-generations earlier, the band features some of the brightest young players on the New York scene, including pianist Julian Shore, Haitian-American alto saxophonist Godwin Louis, and trumpeter Billy Buss (who recently released a very impressive debut album Scenes From A Dream featuring Feinberg and Godwin Louis). Jacob Deaton, an excellent Atlanta guitarist, contributes on one track.
"These guys are my friends and they make it a comfortable environment," Feinberg says. "Each one is a talented composer, and knows how to interpret my music. Billy and Godwin spent two years playing together every day at the Monk Institute, and on top of their virtuosic musicianship they're an amazing team. Along with Julian they're the next generation of guys coming up."
The album opens with the rousing, hip hop-tinged "Tutuola," a name that should sound familiar to anyone who's watched Law & Order: Special Victims. Noting that young players with a lot of down time often end up binging on Law & Order marathons, Feinberg wrote an episodic theme that slyly alludes to Ice T's earlier career. "I came up with the rhythmic part of it, and the melody was definitely influenced by listening to Busta Rhymes and getting into his flow," he says.
Feinberg evokes the hustle and flow of life on New York's streets with "Puncher's Chance," a piece that lightly wears its infatuation with Robert Glasper's experiments. And he gets down in the gutter with "Dukeface," a joyful post-bop blues set to a celebratory New Orleans groove that coaxes some evangelical fervor from Buss and Louis. The album's centerpiece is the waxing/waning three-part suite "But the Sound," which opens slow and woozy and grows increasingly intense as it modulates between keys before a spare, beatific solo by Shore signals calm acceptance. Before exiting with the title track, Feinberg offers the ravishing ballad "Untitled 2," a piece that touches on the radical simplicity of bassist/composer Ben Allison's music from the turn of the century. "It's a pretty piece, not a side of myself that usually comes out," Feinberg says. "Ben Allison was definitely a formative influence. I'm trying to take stuff I hear and present it in ways I haven't heard."
Born and raised in Atlanta, Feinberg earned his BM in Jazz Performance at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music, and graduated from New York University with a master's degree in 2011. While he's enmeshed with his contemporaries, he credits several authoritative veterans with playing a formative role in his development, including pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, guitarist John Scofield, drummer Billy Drummond, and particularly tenor saxophonist George Garzone. A generous mentor to several generations of improvisers, Garzone inculcated a sense of commitment in every note that Feinberg plays. "He really taught me a lot about confidence and having an attitude," Feinberg says. "He's a no-holds barred player, and he's so deep when it comes to rhythm and sound. We played duo in his apartment and it forced me to become a better player."
In many ways, Feinberg's musical concept hinges on his immersion in the music of Elvin Jones, the universally hailed rhythmic innovator whose post-Coltrane work as a bandleader is still too little known. When a friend in college hipped him to Earth Jones, a classic but long out-of-print quintet 1982 session on Palo Alto, it started him on a journey that led to The Elvin Jones Project, Feinberg's powerhouse 2012 album on Sunnyside with Garzone, drum legend Billy Hart, trumpeter Tim Hagans, and pianist Leo Genovese. "I knew Elvin's work with Coltrane and Larry Young's Unity, and Wayne Shorter's Blue Note albums, but not much beyond that," Feinberg recalls. "I started digging and digging, and became pretty obsessed with him. He was such an amazing musician and as celebrated as he is I don't think a lot of people recognize how progressive he was. And Elvin connects all of my favorite bassists: Gene Perla, Dave Holland, George Mraz, Jimmy Garrison. George Garzone really helped me put it all together."
When it comes to a group concept, he's also drawn inspiration from Pilc, the French-born pianist who has developed a volatile trio that plays his episodic originals and radically reconstructed standards. "I studied with Hal Crook, and he said that being in a band should be like a team full of captains. Jean-Michel's trio works that way, and that's how I want my group to work. We all have defined roles but it's in flux and they can change at any time."
Feinberg made a memorable debut as a leader with 2011's With Many Hands, a project that gathered some of his generation's most formidable players, including Humblebrag's Shore and Louis, tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, and versatile drummer Daniel Platzman (who recently won a Grammy Award with the Las Vegas rock band Imagine Dragons). As a composer and bandleader, he continues to cast a wide net, drawing on his disparate array of experiences and deep pool of exceptional talent. Primarily identified as a jazz musician, Feinberg is often sought out by singer/songwriters and rock combos. His music, passionate, emotionally engaged and unafraid to sound raw or polished, effectively reflects the confluence of sounds and ideas running through New York these days, and that's no humblebrag.