Michael Leonhart & The Avramina 7 – Seahorse and the Storyteller

Michael Leonhart & the Avramina 7 – Seahorse and the Storyteller

The story on Michael Leonhart is that he’s quietly turned into one of the best, young, trumpet players in the country. When you’ve won a Grammy for being the best player in a high school and have developed a list of musicians that you’ve played with that includes David Byrne, Steely Dan and James Brown, then you’re certainly something of an accomplished player. But Leonhart has always stayed true to his own goals and ambitions as a musician, never comprising his talent in favor of something too meandering. Instead, he’s fully grown into those massive shoes he’s made for himself.

As a young musician, there always needs to be a specific amount of effort devoted solely to ensuring that your music is not only heard, but is performed and recorded your way. In amassing his “The Avramina 7”, Leonhart made sure to not only include stellar musicians that have done their share of being in awesome bands (Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Antibalas, El Michels Affair, The Expressions) but these same musicians are at Leonhart’s control, personally shifting and re-directing their skill to compliment Leonhart’s vision and efforts.

With Seahorse and the Storyteller, Leonhart has created a quirky, funky album that tells the story of two mythical creatures who meet and fall in love and who, eventually, recall the mysteries of their pasts. Such a theme of togetherness calls for an equally bonding type of performance and it’s delivered ten-fold by Leonhart and his backing band. So much of the music is dished out with precision and accuracy that every horn, sax and drum is in cohesive support of the next. And while the story’s uniting theme is apparent, the music is every bit unique to convey the fairy-tale likeness of the story’s aim. Tones of other-worldliness and a method of jazz that is anything but standard play out like a mystic combination of cerebral funkiness.

And there are, definitely, moments of musical heaven spread out over the album’s twelve tracks. “The Story of Echo Lake” instantly stands out with its murky and hypnotizing piano line and Leonhart’s own singing style: short and quick. But in the end it’s the backing vocals, the sultry sax solo and the overall atmosphere that drives such gifted playing into another realm of excellence. Although there are times when Leonhart’s vision veers a bit off the main road (like on the nervy “Have You Met Martina”) where only a repetitive guitar and bass support the song, there is a soulful class being held on “Jaipur” that is absolutely astounding. Bubbling with strings and saxes that swirl and honk with a mesmerizing pulse, the music is ambient without ever losing you.

These kinds of efforts deserve a richly open handshake into what the music world has to offer. Even through some minor missteps, it is clear that Leonhart is an extremely talented musician with a greater amount of ambition. And to be able to hone your playing ability and still come up with a backing story that is definitely interesting, it isn’t a bad combination for a debut by any means. It also doesn’t hurt that The Avramina 7 is a marvelous band to play in front of, but Leonhart is sure to only get better from here on out.

Truth & Soul Records