Teddy Presberg – Outcries from a Sea of Red

Teddy Presberg - Outcries from a Sea of Red

People who like their improvisatory music a little edgier than Spyro Gyra and a tad less avant-garde than Mededski, Martin, & Wood are bound to find contentment in the psychedelic jazz of St. Louis guitarist Teddy Presberg.  Though his six-string technique has all the underpinnings of vintage soul and blues music, Presberg is not the slightest bit reticent when it comes to his love of electronics and digital manipulation; phasing, flanging, and filtering effects are employed all over his most recent record, Outcries from a Sea of Red, and two subsequent remixed versions of the LP have emerged with contributions from artists such as Atfunk and Quasamodo.

Of its 16 tracks, Outcries leans heavily on midtempo and slowburning funk grooves that afford Presberg and his band plenty of space to roam.  Rather than fill every passing beat with a squall of notes though, the musicians take a page from the Miles Davis playbook and allow the silence to speak volumes.  It’s a minimalist approach that dials down any sense of catharsis or aggression, meaning that comparisons with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flying Lotus, and – it’s true – KMFDM are fleeting at best.

Opening track “$4/gal” sets the tone for the album with a mellow jazz-funk groove and the clarion call of Presberg’s guitar melodies.  Around the midway point, the band temporarily picks up a more urgent pace and Presberg obliges with a commanding display of metal virtuosity that Dave Navarro might’ve attempted in his Jane’s Addiction days.  “Beyond Busted” throws down a similar gauntlet, though this time the guitar playing – with all of its moaning bends and sweet sustain – more directly references David Gilmour and even B.B. King.

Though he’s exceptionally gifted with hip-shaking funk jams, Presberg’s songwriting prowess is more engaging when he steps outside of his comfort zone.  “Timebomb” juxtaposes a brooding minor-key blues progression with digital embellishments and a glammed-up bridge section.  “Nancy” channels a dub/reggae vibe that instantly recalls images of sun-soaked beach parties.  The titular track comes off like a modern send up of something Dave Brubeck could’ve conjured on his 1959 Time Out record; the tune is set in a brisk 5/4 time signature with impressively dexterous drum breaks throughout.  But where Brubeck would’ve brought the piano to the fore, Presberg’s composition favors glitchy electronics and envelope filter effects.

While a majority of the LP sticks devotedly to a psychedelic/jazz/funk hybrid, Presberg’s most impressive turns are – ironically enough – on the filler tracks, which occupy nearly 30% of the record.  Labeling something as “filler” usually indicates something worth avoiding altogether, but in the case of Presberg, the only qualifier for such a tag comes from the length – not fully realized ideas that come to pass in less than 2 minutes.  “Free Love Redux” could function as background ambience in some chic designer clothing store at the galleria, while “Cornbread Middle West” feels like it was plucked from some abandoned T-Bone Burnett project.  The best of these little gems however, is “Passion,” which finds Presburg working a chain gang vibe with kitchen sink percussion, slide guitar, and blues hollerin’.  Too bad it’s all over in just 70 seconds.

Some of the other tracks on Outcries do feel admittedly overlong, but Teddy Presberg’s adroit guitar playing and unpretentious songwriting make for a winning combination.  It also doesn’t hurt that most of the album is undeniably danceable; his website claims him the creator of “jazz for dancers and lovers,” and on this promise, Presberg undoubtedly succeeds.