Review: Redshift by Josh Deutsch/Nico Soffiato Trio — an intimate dialogue in a setting of trust and familiarity

On Redshift, long-time friends and collaborators Josh Deutsch (trumpet) and Nico Soffiato (guitar) reunite for a third installment of their duo project. Released on Italian label, Redshift follows their previous albums Time Gels (2011) and Reverse Angle (2015).

Brooklyn-based Italian guitarist Nico Soffiato has played in various jazz and experimental groups like Paradigm Refrain, Limited Release Trio and the O.S.T. Quartet. Alongside bassist Zach Swanson, he co-leads Dogwood, whose debut album was released on the same label.

I’ve been following Josh’s work for years, ever since he was featured on one of my favorite records. Last year, I’ve had a chance to hear him live, with the Nikolett Pankovits sextet. His friendly, easy-going nature translates to a sound that feels warm, honest and inclusive, no matter the projects he plays.

A broad-ranging musician, the Grammy-winning trumpeter has recently released The Road to Pannonia, a multidisciplinary concept album of “traditional folk music from an imaginary country”. Knowing that I love the Pannonia project, Josh warned me from the outset: “This is a totally different animal!” Indeed, a simple but fitting introduction.

Following the formula of their previous records, Redshift comes across like an intimate musical dialogue in a setting of trust and familiarity. This time, renowned drummers Allison Miller and Dan Weiss join in on the conversation, generating a more spirited exchange. Their presence is influential, creating the album’s aesthetic. The main interaction is between trumpet and drums, with Soffiato’s baritone guitar remaining mostly in the background, bridging the contrasting viewpoints and dictating the tone of the discourse. 

The album consists of original songs by each of the two composers, one collaborative composition, a shout-out to Schumann and two cover songs.

A jazz record by DNA, Redshift has an ordered, straightforward structure patterned after mainstream genres like pop, rock and electronic music. There is a relaxed flow throughout, allowing the listeners to switch their attention between the conversing instruments without losing the narrative thread, a quality that favors repeated listening.  

“Arrival” starts off gently, with a soft guitar-and-drums intro that ushers in Deutsch’s nostalgic, dreamlike trumpet. There’s a heartfelt, vulnerable quality to his playing that grants his instrument a very human resonance. In fact, before I realized that “Paul” was a cover of a tune by indie-rock band Big Thief, my first thought was that the trumpet part could have easily been adapted for a vocalist. Midway through the song, the trumpeter almost imperceptibly steps out of the melodic sequence, transitioning into a gorgeous, increasingly intense solo over an energetic rock background in one of the standout moments. 

Given the broad range of his instrument, its puzzling that Soffiato rarely steps into the forefront though, when he does, it makes his statements all the more resonant. His splendid solo on “Endnote” is another one of the album’s highlights.

After a folky take on Schumann’s “Piano Quintet Op. 44” (re-titled “44.2”) and the co-written “Consolation Prize”, where the melodic instruments play off each other over Miller’s steady beat before echoing one another in a delightful moment of agreement, the record wanders off a bit with “Triad Tune”, which seems undecided in what it’s trying to convey. It quickly regains its direction on the mellow “Remember When”, built around a catchy guitar riff, with Deutsch’s trumpet at its most melodious. 

The Soffiato-penned “Tooch-Taach” brings a dose of fusion, with its funky bassline and shades of Miles Davis-psychedelia, while “Time Lapse” ventures into electronic territory as Soffiato’s monotonous synths and Weiss’ mercurial drumming create a beautiful contrast with Deutsch’s slow, pensive trumpet. 

The record comes full circle with “John My Beloved”, a cover of a Sufjan Stevens tune. On this melancholic ballad it’s just Deutsch and Soffiato sharing one last intimate moment before the music ends. There’s discernible affection in their gentle, comfortable interplay, bringing to mind a reluctant goodbye.

Remaining with our established imagery, Redshift does feel as though you are listening to a group of friends discussing things they love. There’s a respectful distance, so each party can express themselves freely and with great eloquence but the overall tone remains one of love and support. In closing: a gorgeous record that I feel I will be returning to often.  

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