Surprise Chef: Education and Recreation
(Big Crown BC126-LP, 2022)
Australian instrumental funk and soul band Surprise Chef sits next to you in the passenger seat when you’re in need of company on a late-night drive to nowhere. They are a tightly-knit group of 6 musicians who bring a creative blend of carefully calibrated funk to your hi-fi system. Imagine Cake minus the vocals and blustering trumpet, add in some authoritative and dissonant keyboard parts by Jethro Curtin, crispy drum tracks courtesy of Andrew Congues, and a few tracks of refreshing flute by Erica Tucceri, a full-time percussionist (Hudson Whitlock) serves to broaden the album’s scope. After listening to the album several times, something began to tug at me. I liked what I was hearing, but what was missing? The entire work is painstakingly charted and arranged with nary a solo or instrumental, no off-the-cuff flourishes; save for maybe the flute parts on a few songs. Hey, look, we don’t have a problem here, but this creates a world that is perhaps a little too precise and orchestrated; maybe even sterile. However, the pre-meditated approach gives the album it’s hypnotically reliable late-night quality. Side Two loosens up a bit and really gets the party started, “Money Music” is a strong track while while “Spring’s Theme” is another standout featuring the inclusion of acoustic guitar. Minor surface noise does not get in the way of the otherwise stellar and well-mastered (Scott Hull at Masterdisk) vinyl pressing.