Pianist, arranger and jazz musician Tom Coppola was a staple of the Asheville music scene in the 1990s and early 2000s, primarily with the duo Evans and Coppola, with vocalist Lucian Evans. “I have played on gold and platinum albums for many artists, including Chic, and Paul Simon and Lenny White, but I have never had as much fun as I have had recording these compositions,” he says, by email, of his 10-track mostly-instrumental album, Island Dreams.
The record — its Afro-Cuban jazz and world-beat sounds set to synthesized beats — might feel more at home in a lounge than beside the surf. But lead track “Beach Bird” would hardly be objectionable while taking in an ocean breeze and a piña colada. Light and brisk, its ascending and descending scales flit deftly over a Brazilian rhythm.
“Golden Spoon” is sun-drenched and languid. It features Bobby Porcelli on a supple alto sax part, the brass warm and rounded with none of the ’80s baggage that a jazz saxophone can sometimes pack.
The tracks “Fire Chant” and “Jackalantan” both feature a vocal chorus by Googie Coppola, with whom Tom formed the jazz-rock band Air in the 1970s. Here, the voice is used as another layer of instrumentation rather than a conveyor of lyrics. In the former, dusky and morphing into beats and keyboards, it follows the cooing, upbeat melody. In the nocturnal “Jackalantan,” Googie’s voice is a wistful hum and trill, sliding between distant horn sounds and a warm up-close keys part.
“Airman,” weighty and dark, pairs muted horn with a thick baseline and a crisp, percussive snap. The music seems to pull in two directions, its low end slithery and dark while its melody line flutters and dances in agile improvisations.
The second-to-last track is “Abyssinia,” which feels like a departure. Staccato and driving, its dance beats churn with industrial sounds. There’s a deep tone — a 16-bit keyboard sample of orchestral double bass — that’s as much a vibration as a note. It recalls a sea creature or a tug boat, something large and mobile. The rest of the composition pops and shuffles, hyper and engaged, until a final resonate blast.