"New Orleans? That's where OLD music lives! Louis Armstrong‚ Preservation Hall‚ Wynton Marsalis -- okay‚ HE'S not old‚ but his MUSIC sure is…" Ahh‚ but not so fast: The City that Care Forgot has given this century monster players like Christian Scott and Trombone Shorty‚ and killer outfits like Galactic and Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk. And with his first full-length release Wanderlust‚ multi-instrumentalist Cliff Hines is making his claim to a place on that list.
Expanding on a previously released EP‚ Wanderlust pulls you immediately into a mind that thinks both musically and cinematically. The opener "Brothers" drops you in the middle of a bustling city street - children playing games‚ people walking to work -- just before Hines' mesmerizing loops and Sasha Masakowski's siren-like vocalese make their presence known. Hines carefully lays layers of sound over the primary figure as bassist Jason Weaver and drummer Paul Thibodeaux bring the muscle‚ and then Hines breaks out darting guitar licks that are countered by Khris Royal's hot alto sax. Synth effects lift the piece higher and higher‚ and Thibodeaux' spotlight moment gets extra boost from Hines' guitar and Andrew McGowan's knockout Fender Rhodes.
"Brothers" peaks and resolves‚ but the sounds don't end as Hines uses Sebastien Figueroa's wizard sound effects and Helen Gillet's heartbreaking cello to build a bridge that leads us to "Dresden" -- a city of cathedrals consumed by fire from above in 1945. The piece builds like the unremitting flames that nearly erased the city‚ and the screams of the falling bombs may be muffled like you're hearing them through the walls of a shelter‚ but you still duck and cover. And Hines isn't done building bridges‚ either: Creating a Middle Eastern groove and making his guitar sound like an oud‚ we are whisked from Dresden during World War II to "Tehran" during Arab Spring‚ where Masakowski's middle-section scat singing blends East and West very nicely; Gillet returns to drape gorgeous cello over a piece dedicated to the revolutionary spirit that can't be killed‚ no matter how hard the mullahs try.
Like Marco Benevento‚ Hines deals in indelible images that embed themselves on your brain. Rex Gregory's chaotic soprano sax solo helps Hines link Hiroshima with Japan's tsunami-created nuclear crisis in "Clouds"‚ and Kent Jordan's dancing piccolo flute embodies the curious child inside the title track's narrator‚ who forcefully declares "I cannot live blissfully in ignorance!" The party-hearty attitude of New Orleans runs deep through the rich 21st-century Second Line of "Aetherea"‚ while the narration in "Interzone Reprise" comes straight from William Burroughs' wild drug novella Naked Lunch‚ and is preceded by a jangling mix of rock and jazz that takes us deep inside the head of an unrepentant addict.

Although Wanderlust has its weak points‚ there are little touches throughout the disc that show Hines likes to think outside the box. Certainly his subject matter is anything but standard‚ and demonstrates a sense of fearlessness that is extremely encouraging. As we get deeper into this century and New Orleans makes more room for its new generation of musicians‚ hope springs eternal that Cliff Hines sends us more intricate tapestries and pulsating pictures.