Review: Riley Mulherkar’s Creative Chops Are on Full Display on Impressive Solo Debut ‘Riley’

Riley - Riley Mulherkar
Riley - Riley Mulherkar
Trumpeter Riley Mulherkar offers a fresh take on a ‘classic’ jazz sound alongside intimate expression and a unique versatility in debut solo LP, ‘Riley.’ 
Stream: ‘Riley’ – Riley Mulherkar

What hasn’t been said about a “classic” sound?

Music fans often use older music as a form of nostalgia. A sort of time capsule which allows us to remember simpler and happier times. Artists who lean on classic archetypes rarely challenge listeners with something fresh or innovative which results in music that is bland, repetitive, and derivative.

However, time tests tradition, and I’m happy to report Riley Mulherkar has found a way to toe the line between past and present. His eponymous debut Riley (released February 16 on Westerlies Records) provides a stark and modern take on the traditional jazz instrumental album without falling into the trap of redundancy. Quiet risks display a creative force which provides a holistic and satisfying listen which, though deeply rooted in tradition, sounds contemporary, innovative, and thought-provoking.

Riley - Riley Mulherkar
Riley – Riley Mulherkar

Having studied in an institution like Juilliard, it’s no question where Mulherkar found influence in his artistry. He has been active in the New York music scene for well over a decade as an educator, writer, arranger, music advocate, and, of course, a trumpet player.

Riley Mulherkar is a founding member of The Westerlies, a New York based brass quartet who have made noise with their bold approach to the medium. Each member of the band brings their own unique skill set to create an original sound that blurs the lines between classical, jazz, and folk; there’s nothing else quite like it. The band is in close relation with legendary folk outfit Fleet Foxes, who have featured Mulherkar and The Westerlies on some of their more recent studio recordings and concert tours.

The first two tracks of the project are a wonderful introduction to the album’s subdued yet colorful ethos. “Chicken Coop Blues” displays Mulherkar’s soft spoken and comforting trumpet playing that is nothing if not intentional in its expression. The minimalist accompaniment is sparse and unpredictable in a way that is extremely alluring.

The energy ramps up on the debonair “Ride or Die,” which exhibits suave drums and ear-wormy trumpet licks. The track’s final leg includes washy cymbals and a fired up performance from the trumpeter, the increase in energy resulting in an impressive magnitude of sound.

The mystical “Looking Out” is a statement piece of the album in that Riley is a solo trumpet album that doesn’t always need a solo trumpet to make a statement. The pensive ambience of the track makes it almost sound like a time portal that drags us back to the time Mulherkar is drawing inspiration from. The softness of the mallets and tin pan percussion nicely add to the intimate texture on “King Porter Stomp,” a track which is extremely traditional in its Dixieland aesthetic yet maintains the album’s somber sentiment.

Vuyo Sotashe, the album’s lone feature, brings a heavy, time-hardened sadness to “No More,” a dense and evocative blues piece. The knocking bass drum hits are powerful and overwhelming, adding a strong sense of uneasiness to the track. The intense growl of Mulherkar’s trumpet transitions the track into a dark echo chamber of a cadenza, the ominous pounding of the drum persisting to the very last breath of the track.

Stardust” is a soft, shimmering jazz ballad which leads into “Hopscotch,” a fun and rhythmic piece of crossover jazz, both of which display Mulherkar’s colorful and impressive versatility as an artist.

Riley Mulherkar © Zenith Richards
Riley Mulherkar © Zenith Richards

There’s incredible subtlety in all aspects of Riley.

It’s an album that is never flashy over the top because it doesn’t need to be. It’s clear Riley Mulherkar wears his influences on his sleeve, but through sheer creative force he has created something that sounds fresh and immersive without losing the soul of what makes this kind of music so great.

Albums like Riley breathe new life in the instrumental music field and prove there is always room for innovation.

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:: stream/purchase Riley here ::
:: connect with Riley Mulherkar here ::

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Riley - Riley Mulherkar

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? © Zenith Richards


an album by Riley Mulherkar

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