Album Review of
Survival Instinct: The Evilution of the Pack

Written by Joe Ross
February 15, 2020 - 11:31pm EST
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Drummer Justin Varnes raises awareness for violence prevention with his new release that recognizes our instinctual need to gather in packs, as well as find ways to bridge the divide between packs. The top-flight musicians he’s assembled to bring his optimistic music to life include Mark Rapp (trumpet), Luke Weathington (alto sax), John Sandfort (tenor sax), Nick Rosen (piano) and Kevin Smith (bass). A kind of spiritual chemistry takes place among these guys. While the liner notes for Varnes’ original songs reference certain acts of violence or other impacts of pack mentality, he arranges and presents the music with considerable hope, buoyancy, and positive outlook. As a musical journey, the album flows seamlessly from the opening “Prelude” that introduces the themes, to a short patriotic “Interlude” at the mid-point, and anthemic closing “Postlude.”  Pieces like “Fergimore Island, TX Blues,” “Tout Le Monde Aime La France,” “Many Sons,” “Pulse” and “Thread” combine Varnes’ compositions with the bands’ improvisations to achieve some energizing and exciting new sounds. Behind the crisp, crackling notes of the soloists are Smith’s warm, tight bass lines and Varnes’ emphatic playing with slashing beats and an amazing array of rhythms. Born and raised in Florida, Justin Varnes relocated to New York City to pursue a master’s degree in jazz studies. He currently resides in Atlanta, Ga. where he performs regularly and is a top call sideman for touring artists. As you listen to this album, think of ways that you can personally help build community, support diversity and encourage greater tolerance.  (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)