Cool It, the five-song EP from Raleigh instrumental trio The Hot at Nights, is wonderful and one of my favorite local sets of the admittedly young year. Collecting the trio’s reappraisals of familiar tunes by some of the area’s more popular acts, including Bowerbirds and Delta Rae, Cool It suggests a jazz-rooted take on those Chet Atkins records of yore, when the guitarist would re-create the favorites of his day with his sterling six-string tone.
In this case, the role of Atkins goes to hyper-inventive, eight-string guitarist Chris Boerner and saxophonist Matt Douglas, who divide the themes of (and variations on) songs like Bowerbirds’ “Bur Oak” with uncanny ease and chemistry. And drummer Nick Baglio is a total dynamo here, reconfiguring the grooves of the originals so that somewhat straightforward beats, like that of Delta Rae’s “Bottom of the River,” become rhythmic kaleidoscopes.
The Hot at Nights appropriately close Cool It in a mellow mood, drifting through Sylvan Esso’s sublime “Uncatena” and stretching it through a midsection that swirls outward. Douglas and his saxophone take the bulk of the melody, matching the heights of Amelia Meath’s vocal climax and pushing it a bit harder as Boerner flirts with soft blues in the background. To me, “Uncatena” has always felt like a late-night reflection on some bittersweet day, the emotions and incidents of an afternoon caught in one messy web. This take captures that feeling without words, offering a perfect close to a fantastic little record.