A college town surely would be lost if there were not 20-somethings playing music in the dance-floor blur where jazz, funk and fusion meet in a way that’s amenable to rock fans.
Transcendental Express hold down that corner for Missoula.
Naturally the quintet jams, often at length, but their tunes all have melodies and the trip is not intended to be a bad one, or the kind that veers too far off into either funk excess or psychedelic experiments. There’s a consistent backdrop of classic Rhodes-style keyboard and organ, with melodies on the brighter edge of the spectrum, and it's streamlined to avoid the schlock that scares away all but fusion diehards.
Their 70-minute-plus debut, “10.30.21,” was recorded live at “the Shop.” If you wanted to see them in person, they’re most often at Free Cycles, a spot that doesn’t have a genre per se but its “all are welcome” ethos seems like a natural fit with the group’s take on its music.
The group predates the pandemic by a year or so, with the line-up now consisting of Lhanna Writesel (saxophone and percussion), Chris DuParri (guitar), Kiavash Adibzadeh (keyboards and organ), Cole Grant (bass) and Joshua Chai (drums).
The rhythm section is solid but not ostentatious about showing off its chops, except for a few sets of fireworks when energy level calls for it.
Writesel, who's played around town in pop/rock bands and jazz groups, is a ringer as a soloist. Sometimes with the help of some effects pedals, the saxophone carries the group to another level. The solo on an affectionate minor-key tune, “Mom,” is roughly three minutes long without rehashing ideas or losing steam.
On “The Count,” she runs the sax through some effects to give it another layer of funk extroversion. Partway through, Grant and Chai build into a disco beat, as good of a reason as any to add a wah-like effect. The sounds get out into farther range on “Jamba Jump,” closer to the hyped-up timbre you expect from a Zappa arrangement.
If you needed to sample a track or two, “Mom” gives a full run-through of their group’s dynamic range, the end of “Double Stuffed” catches them at their highest velocity playing. Or you could throw it on in the background and let it play the whole way through.
The album is streaming at transcendentalexpress.bandcamp.com/releases.