John Raymond (center) and Real Feels Credit: Anna Yatsekevich

When John Raymond assembled his lithe trio, Real Feels, he wanted to play tunes so familiar to both his bandmates and his listeners that everybody, onstage and off, could set aside the task of grasping their melodies and structures and just zero in on the interplay and improvisation. A Minnesota native based in New York, Raymond chose tunes for the band (with Israeli guitarist Gilad Hekselman and drummer Colin Stranahan) that evoked nostalgia and warmth for him—hence the name “Real Feels.” He took inspiration from the bass-free trio led by brilliant drummer Paul Motian with guitarist Brill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano, though not from its thickets of harmony and flurries of rhythmic disruption. Real Feels also have the same unusual instrumentation as Circuit Rider, the excellent trio led by cornetist Ron Miles with Frisell and drummer Brian Blade, but they don’t share its complexity of composition or sideways, harmony-based approach. (While we’re on the subject, Circuit Rider plays at SPACE in Evanston on February 26.)

On Real Feels’ first album they tackled pop tunes by the likes of Thom Yorke, Paul Simon, and the Beatles, public domain fare such as “Amazing Grace” and “This Land Is Your Land,” and a couple of originals. The music definitely meets Raymond’s goals: it focuses on melody, delivering it generously and without fuss. Today Raymond’s trio dropped their studio follow-up, Joy Ride (Sunnyside). Like its predecessor, the album includes familiar pop tunes (by Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon), but this time Raymond wrote most of the material. And while the band’s approach on the earlier recordings (which include a 2016 live album that mostly reprises material from the debut) was direct and straightforward, on Joy Ride they use loads of looping effects to achieve a much denser sound. As you can hear below on the title track, Raymond’s writing retains the lyrical splendor he’s been gunning for from the outset: this pop-oriented post-jazz tune keeps its breezy vibe even as Stranahan’s stuttering beats and Hekselman’s slaloming lines add tension. In the soaring conclusion, Raymond and Hekselman play the melody in ebullient unison while a countermelody loops beneath them.
Though the looping effects often make the arrangements feel a bit more involved this time out, Raymond notes in the press materials that he tried to keep his writing simple. He composed the material for Joy Ride with a piano, on which he’s hardly a virtuoso, creating a “handicap to insure the pieces would be more natural.” The production by Matt Pierson gives the group a fuller, deeper sound, more like a rock band, and looping and other electronics effects allow the musicians to add bass lines, contrapuntal parts, and textures that weren’t there when the group began. Real Feels’ version of Bon Iver’s “Minnesota, WI” gets at the aesthetic Raymond’s shooting for: closer to rock than jazz, but with unabashedly advanced playing. On that track, Hekselman’s heavy solo sounds more like Eddie Hazel than it does Ed Cherry. Raymond and Real Feels play a Chicago release show for the new record at the Jazz Showcase on Tuesday evening.

Today’s playlist:

Sugai Ken, Ukabaz UmorezU (RVNG)
Lab Trio, The Howls Are Not What They Seem (Out Note)
Thomas Demenga, J.S. Bach: Suiten für Violoncello (ECM)
Frank Kimbrough, Solstice (Pirouet)
Okkyung Lee & Bill Orcutt, Live at Café Oto (Otoroku)