Album Review: The Fearless Flyers Put the ‘Fun’ in Funk

Its rare to see such a great band, Vulfpeck, produce such an equally great side project like The Fearless Flyers. While Vulfpeck has a more varied sound and dabbles across multiple genres, the Flyers, which is comprised of Vulfpeck bassist Joe Dart, Vulfpeck touring guitarist Cory Wong, drummer Nate Smith and Snarky Puppy guitarist Mark Lettieri, are an overload of funk to the max. All of the musicians are more than capable of playing a variety of genres, but this grouping sees the members of the band hone in on one of the world’s most energetic genres of music.

Their latest album, Tailwinds, sees the band pick up three additional pieces, Grace Kelly on baritone saxophone, Kenni Holmen on tenor sax and Alekos Syropoulos on alto sax. With the presence of a strong winds section, which the group refers to as the “Delta Force,” the Flyers add a new musical depth to their album, as well as James Brown-esque harmonic punches that act as much as rhythmic figures as harmonic ones. For those looking for a high energy, high intensity and highly fun listening experience from a modern group, Tailwinds might be the best place to start looking.

The listener is introduced to the funky sound of the Flyers right at the beginning of the album, as the first song, “Nate Smith Is The Ace Of Aces,” not only lets the listener know who the heart and soul of the driving force of the band is, but introduces the listener to each of the musicians, and each of their strengths. A tight sax section that delivers fat, rhythmic punches that serve equally as melodic and harmonic figures, Cory Wong’s relentlessly fast wrist that drives the chords, Mark Lettieri’s impeccable technical guitar playing and musical understanding, Joe Dart’s uncanny ability to both groove and solo, and of course Nate Smith’s crisp and precise drumming. The dazzling display of the band as individuals and as a whole continues through the next two songs of the album, as the sax section adds a new element to a familiar Cory Wong song on “Introducing Delta Force,” before taking us into the fast paced groove of “Colonel Panic.” Throughout the first three songs, it is virtually impossible for the listener to sit still while listening to the Flyers. The high tempo, high energy grooves demand a foot tap or a head nod at the very least, if not a full dance session breakout. If anyone is able to listen to the beginning of this album and not feel inclined to dance, frankly there might be something wrong with them.

The album’s fourth track, “Ambush,” sees the rhythm section display their versatility, as they take on a short but strong heavy metal take. Once again Nate Smith shines on the drums, as he effortlessly keeps the high pace metal groove throughout the song. The band as a whole goes on to display their softer side on “The Birdwatcher,” a slower, more soulful approach rather than a high paced funk explosion. The lightness in the saxophone section is amazing, especially considering the force that they displayed at the beginning of the album. Grace Kelly on the bari provides the perfect bottom in the horn section, as she drives the sax groove throughout the album. “Assassin” takes the listener right back to the ultra fast funk bonanza that the band excels at, with a dazzling saxophone melody that is expertly delivered. The rhythmic playing of Wong combined with the melodic playing of Lettieri are great counters to each other and provide different aspects of the overall feel. Dart’s bass playing is once again on display, as he shows his ability to sit in the pocket and groove even at extremely high tempos. Syropoulos’s and Holmen’s sax solos are funky while also utilizing some aspects of jazz that provide nice variation in their respective solos.

“Adrienne and Adrianne” shows the band’s versatility once more, as they slow down and take on a more soulful approach once again. The ease at which the band can speed up and slow down between songs is truly astounding, and comes off as effortless. Another saxophone soli shows us how the instrument can be used as a rhythmic instrument as well as a melodic and harmonic one, as their timely, syncopated hits keep the listener on edge while also adding aspects of melody to the song and harmony within each other. “Kenni and the Jets,” is not only a beautiful cover of Elton John’s classic “Benny and the Jets,” but highlights the saxophone section, as well as once again the versatility of the band. The saxophones, which take on the melody, insert their own growls, bends and articulations that take nothing away from the melody line despite the absence of lyrics. The rhythm section does a fantastic job highlighting the saxophones and staying true to the original song, without overpowering the melody. The saxophones’ ability to mimic the keyboard playing that occurs in the original is astonishing and amazing, and other than Holmen’s beautiful tenor solo, might be the highlight of the entire cover.

“Kauai” once again sees the band slowing down and taking a softer approach. It cannot be overstated how easily the band as a whole can transition from style to style between songs without skipping a beat, as the Flyers once again display their more tender, soulful side. “The Speedwalker,” which closes out the album, also favors a more soulful approach over the blazing funk that began the album, as the cohesiveness of the band is on display to close the album. The song is bright and upbeat, but also continues to show the band’s softer side rather than just sheer technical ability and blazing speed. Appropriately, a final Nate Smith drum solo closes the album out, which is fitting considering his masterful ability to hold a groove on any and all styles of song.

The album is as enjoyable a listen as anything else released this year. It takes the listener back to the 1970’s, the glory days of funk and soul, and back into the clubs that blared this music night in and night out. Although EDM has taken over the modern dance scene, it is albums like Tailwinds that remind listeners about the beauty of dance music played by instruments rather than being electronically generated. The band members’ abilities to play off of one another and match each other’s energy is just once aspect of funk that EDM cannot provide. EDM can’t defeat the spontaneity of a band performing together, or the sheer awe of watching a band like this play together live. Simply put, this album is one of the most fun albums of 2020, and will make the listener yearn for the return of live music.

Listen to The Fearless Flyers’ new album Tailwinds below:

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Drew Feinerman View All →

I have just completed my senior year at the University of Michigan majoring in international studies with an emphasis in political economics and development, with a minor in Chinese language and culture, and I have recently been accepted into the Berklee School of Music’s masters of music business program. Although economics, politics and history are all academic interests of mine, I consider music to be my true passion.

Music has always been my passion, and it is a driving force for the way I think, act, and conduct myself on a daily basis. I have been playing the clarinet and saxophone since the age of ten, and the ability to play music at a high level has allowed me to embrace music on a multitude of levels. I am both an avid player and listener of music, and I find myself constantly in search of new artists who bring something new and different to the art form, and writing about new music has become a new outlet for me to explore what is going on in the musical world.

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