Mantra's music isn't for those who view fusion as one of the least pleasant and noteworthy chapters in jazz history. Inspired by the electric, genre-blurring sounds championed by Miles Davis, Weather Report, Tony Williams Lifetime and their numerous disciples from the late '60s though the early '80s, "IntotheOut" is a freewheeling power trio excursion into the plugged-in past.
Three of the eight cuts on the CD pay homage to fusion pioneers. Davis is saluted with an imaginative reprise of his "Fast Track," awash in percolating funk despite the absence of a bass guitar. Wayne Shorter's "Mysterious Traveler" suggests a lean, Hendrix-tinted take on Weather Report, with guitarist Chuck Underwood leading the way. Joe Zawinul's "Doctor Honoris Causa" is similarly appealing, atmospheric and driven by turns. All the tunes, including five original compositions, allow Underwood, keyboardist Jon Ozment and drummer Mark Merella to stretch out in this amplified and loosely structured setting. The moods range from organ trio grooves to outre soundscapes that apparently coalesced on the spot, and there's enough middle ground to keep things from becoming too derivative.
Still, the tracks that invite repeat spins tend to have a blues bias or an insistent pulse going for them, which is why the CD's meandering 13-minute coda, "Triptych," seems too long by half.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Friday at Sangha Cafe. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Mantra, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8105. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)