Eastend Mile works hard, that much is clear. The four-piece jazz fusion outfit has been chipping away at their second album, I Had a Wonderful Time, since November of 2015, all the while playing gigs, holding down jobs, earning degrees and honing their craft. But plenty of bands, no matter how hard-working, fall victim to the sophomore slump - a second effort that takes more risks, tries new sounds, shakes things up, but ultimately falls flat.
That hard work, in conjunction with a new rhythm section, new tricks and a city full of collaborators, kept Eastend Mile from falling victim to that second-album flop and pushed the group into fresh and exciting musical territory.
Defining fusion is always tricky, but I Had a Wonderful Time only mystifies the moniker more. The foursome have their fingers in so many genres it's impossible to ascribe them to just one.
"Blood Moon," the album's first single, feels very much like jazz, geometric and driving. Percussionist Dhruva Krishna propels his bandmates through the song, relentlessly dispensing the beat as he explores every inch of his kit. Saxophonist Roger Romero leads the listener through a melody reminiscent of Pittsburgh's city streets, winding and gritty with blind corners and steep descents, some unexpected, but all gratifying.
But "Blood Moon" is just one of 12 tracks on the album, and thus just one of 12 distinctly different sounds Eastend Mile has created. "15 Seconds to Move" is immersive and intricate. "First Things First," lush and layered. And "Dirty Pools" would sound right at home with Seatbelts on the "Cowboy Bebop" soundtrack.
"Overdrive" highlights Christoffer Thygesen's solid, stoic bass style in an improvised call and response with Romero. Keyboardist Caleb Lombardi slips in and out between them with Samba-style piano licks.
Lombardi's keyboards find their home along side Mariko Reid's sweet vocals on "Twisted," a beautiful, soulful love song, threaded with strings and rich harmonies that serves as a reminder that it truly takes a village. "The album is almost a Pittsburgh album, with the amount of Pittsburgh art that's on it," Thygesen told Found Sound.
I Had a Wonderful Time is full of collaborators that enliven the album and provide even more sonic diversity. Guitarist Shane McLaughlin shreds in his solo on "Jungle Cat." Local hip hop artist Yury provides vocals for "Re:Questlove" and Rich Robbins raps over pure jazz on "I'm the Realest." Even Lombardi's tattoo artist had a hand in the single artwork, according to Thygesen.
A host of collaborators, a glut of genres and a surplus of styles can make it hard to pin down exactly what Eastend Mile set out to sound like on their second LP, but the musical mélange leaves even more to love. Album three may bring a stronger sense of self to the band, but until then, listeners can enjoy a little bit of everything.
Eastend Mile is debuting I Had a Wonderful Time at they album release party presented by Found Sound on Satruday, Sept. 10 in the newly-reopened James Street Ballroom.
Editorial Note: Eastend Mile's Dhruva Krishna and Roger Romero are both part of the Found Sound team, but were not influential in the impartiality of this preview. That said, we're really proud of their kickass contribution to Pittsburgh music.