With That Tall Distance, David Myles enthusiastically dives into a genre he’s been pacing around for a long time.
Artists don’t normally leap into jazz from other genres. Playing jazz can be so intense the skills required are almost athletic. It is daunting and challenging, and if you fail, you fail fast and hard. It’s common for jazz aesthetics and sounds to influence other genres, but an artist making the full transition is pretty uncommon.
David Myles’s singer-songwriter music has jazz and blues elements: upright bass, groovy mandolin riffs, even vibraphones and occasional horn arrangements. But it’s always been just that: singer-songwriter music. He’s clearly a fan of jazz, but his albums usually just nod at it in a folk-friendly way.
That’s why his latest album, That Tall Distance, is so intriguing in concept. David Myles making an instrumental album? Wha-why? This short record by an east coast singer-songwriter has no lyrics or vocals — what a huge risk. I was expecting some soft bluegrass, acoustic guitar jingles, songs that sound like interludes on an Allman Brothers LP. And while the tracks “Motion” and “Birch Lane” approach that territory, That Tall Distance is largely successful in being a jazz record.
The exciting thing about That Tall Distance is its funk influence. Heavy electric basslines on “Bird Song,” “Silver World,” and especially “Plank” are super out of the ordinary for Myles, and his outside-the-box risk in using them pays off in the end. His band is smooth, and his multi-instrumental skills shine with his trumpet and guitar playing. Is he the fastest, most intense, most attention-catching jazz artist? No way, but it doesn’t seem like he’s trying to be. It seems like he’s trying to have fun playing around in a genre he obviously loves so much. He got a good band, he put in the work, and he took a big risk.
The result is some groovy slow jam music: mellowed down electric jazz inspired by Herbie Hancock and subdued with Khruangbin Influence. This record may not keep me glued to my headphones, but That Tall Distance lends a chill atmosphere to a space. It’s good music to vibe to while cooking or cleaning or catching up with friends. It’s a surprisingly unpretentious and fun little album, and that’s because Myles is enthusiastically diving into a genre he’s been pacing around for a long time.