Pino Palladino and Blake Mills are two musicians of different generations and different musical paths, but with curiously parallel career experiences. Since the early 1980s, Palladino’s been a career sideman and session player, his fretless bass appearing on Gary Numan’s I, Assassin album before his credits appeared on albums by the likes of Tears for Fears, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Elton John and D’Angelo. Yet until this year, the 63-year-old musician’s name hasn’t appeared on the spine of any albums he’s been featured on. Blake Mills’ has, but his solo recordings have often been overshadowed by the work he’s done with artists such as Fiona Apple, Perfume Genius, Phoebe Bridgers and Bob Dylan.
It’s not necessarily fate that brings these two musicians together, but a shared understanding of finding magic within the walls of a studio. Their collaborative debut, Notes With Attachments, is a long-delayed moment in the spotlight for Palladino as well as an outward expansion of Mills’ already highlight-filled catalog. It’s also not what anyone familiar with either artist might expect from a first go-around. Released through the legendary jazz outpost Impulse!, Notes With Attachments is a loose and freewheeling pursuit of groove, casting aside notions and compulsions toward pop songcraft in favor of a joyful and inspired fusion.
Notes With Attachments is, in a manner of speaking, a jazz album. Yet its target is constantly shifting; to call this “fusion” might bring to mind the likes of early ’70s Miles Davis or Herbie Hancock, but sonically it’s a bit more all over the map. A track like “Djurkel” combines dirty and dusty bass with rustic plucks of banjo in a manner that might feel like The Books at their most rhythmic or even the funkiest textures of a group like Califone. At the root is something more aesthetically free, however, a genreless pursuit of mood, beauty and bounce.
The eight tracks here aren’t studies or explorations of a particular discipline or stylistic realm. They’re contained within a particular palette of sounds—bass, drums, guitar, keyboards, saxophone and clarinet—but that’s more than enough for Palladino and Mills to build entirely new shapes from eclectic sounds that cross oceans and continents, each subsequent track feeling like a blank slate upon which the duo can pursue a feeling or a vibe. So while the woodwind-laden opener “Just Wrong” leans more toward the atmospheric and the avant garde, the following track “Soundwalk” nods to the kind of smoky funk that Palladino laid down on D’Angelo’s Voodoo. And when the ensemble starts cooking with grease on the Afro-Cuban-inspired fire of “Ekuté,” what initially feels like a subdued and artful chamber jazz exercise rises up into an explosive jam session with groove to spare, Palladino’s fuzz-heavy bass sharing more sonic fatness with Theon Cross’ heavy tuba playing than any instrument with strings.
While Mills and Palladino don’t necessarily set out to reinvent the sounds they interpret and reshape on Notes With Attachments, they manage to find their way toward something that sounds unburdened by the weight of direct influence. These artists sound inspired by each other’s presence, and the chemistry among them guides them somewhere that feels fresh and often novel. It’s thrilling to ponder what future sessions and an extended partnership between these two artists might bring about in the future. For now, at least, it’s a singular album that reminds us of the limitlessness of musical possibility.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.