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CESAREO GARASA: Mighty Morfin power range on display with ‘Mirrorball’

I can attest from firsthand experience that Isaiah Morfin is a unique, vibrant and impressive musician.

That's the case both on the saxophone, where he maintains an almost supernatural facility and tone, and the keyboards, where his imagination is verdant and his sound lush, even when he dives headfirst into jazz-ish dissonance.

I've performed with him on venue stages and in the studio, but mostly as part of the musical worship team at First Presbyterian Church. He performs with a daring, sonic creativity — especially when it comes to synthesizer sounds — and a casual sense of excellence. Even when he's just warming up on a keyboard, he's creating harmonic progressions that could easily be another musician's crowning statement.

Much like fellow local musicians Paul Cartwright, Dennis Hamm, Marcos Reyes and Jarred Pope, Morfin's is a talent that bursts at this town's seams, yet could easily be at home here comfortably — if he chooses to do so.

His latest release under the banner Izzy & the Fins, "Mirrorball," happens to be the 32-year-old Morfin's long-in-the-making (since April 2019) full-length debut. It's an album with a distinctly 1980s state of mind in a 21st-century world. It's of and not of this time.

The album was recorded at BIG EGO Studio in Long Beach, Morfin's hometown. He moved to Bakersfield at around 8 years old.

"Me and my mom moved out here to be with her dad," Morfin said. "We would go to the beach regularly in the South Bay and when I'd ask her (after moving) if we could go to the beach, (she would say) 'There's no beach here, son."

"Making that trip (to the studio), 2½ hours there and back, it was like a pilgrimage, where we were going to this place because this dream I had of having this music coming to life was going to happen in Long Beach."

The studio had an extensive collection of vintage synthesizers at the band's disposal and the album's liner notes list all of the ones that were played by Morfin, his producer and co-writer Chris Schlarb, and bandmate Tony Rinaldi on the release.

"It was totally a collaborative thing," Morfin said.

The result is a focused album whose sound is reminiscent of the dreamy, synth-heavy pop and wry lyrics of bands like Empire of the Sun, MGMT and, on the song "Carousel," Blur at its most ornately regal. Where Morfin might be better known locally in jazz circles, this album is firmly in the chillwave camp.

Some songs, like the album's exuberant second single "Fall Apart," percolate while others, like the lovely "Want You," take their time to luxuriously unfold. The almost eight-minute title track starts with a cosmic sizzle that breaks down into a bouncy groove with Morfin's hopeful plea, "under the mirrorball of love, I know there's more for us than this."

Similar to Indigo Hush, another local band with canny modern pop instincts radiating under a retro patina, Morfin creates joyfully lilting, wistful music in which our future robot overlords will delight.

The whole album evokes an otherworldly sense of alienation and observation, like a cosmic watcher armed with a keyboard and drum machine, burdened with the melancholy task of opaquely reporting on the profundity of what they've seen. Most of the drum tracks on "Mirrorball" were performed by live drummers John Miranda and Danny Frankel.

Morfin sings lead throughout "Mirrorball" and is joined by Crimson Skye, subtly, on the cryptic yet understandable "WWTWSA," which stands for "When Will the World Start Again?" It's my favorite track on the album. The whole album drops on April 8 with a free, all-ages release party on April 9 at 2nd Phase Brewing, which will include a food truck on-site.

Izzy & the Fins “Mirrorball” album release party, 7 p.m. April 9, 2nd Phase Brewing, 1004 19th St.

Cesareo’s picks

Speaking of Marcos Reyes, the indefatigable percussionist will perform this Thursday at Flame and Fire Brazilian Steakhouse with the Blue Bossa Trio featuring Zanne Zarrow on vocals and trumpeter Steve Eisen.

Reyes, whose main gig is low rider-ing around the world with the legendary band War, has an extensive knowledge of world music styles and history that he will no doubt put to good use with this trio. He's a veritable encyclopedia with a magnetic, electric playing style that radiates pure joy.

This isn't just an opportunity to enjoy some wonderful music, but a learning experience for musicians curious to see how the real deal is performed. Zarrow, who often sings the bossa novas in their native Portuguese, is skillful and endearing while Eisen matches both of their elan with creativity and no short amount of exploration when he switches from the trumpet to the EWI (an electronic wind instrument).

There will be limited seating, so reservations are recommended if available (call 661-498-7577).

Reyes will also play with Mento Buru this Saturday at the Michelada Madness Spring Fiesta happening at Stramler Park. (Disclosure: I perform with Mento Buru.)

The rain-or-shine, 21-and-over event will also include food vendors and a cornhole tournament ($80 per team; contact Felix with The Mob at 661-717-3777, for details). 

Guests are welcome to bring their own lawn chairs, short umbrellas (no ground stakes) and blankets, but no canopies are allowed. Plan ahead as there will be no ATM on site; tickets at the gate are cash-only and vendors will take cash or credit card at their discretion.

Blue Bossa Trio, featuring special guest Marcos Reyes, 6 to 9 p.m., Thursday, Flame and Fire Brazilian Steakhouse, 12814 Stockdale Highway. Free admission but seating is limited.

Michelada Madness Spring Fiesta, 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Stramler Park, 4003 Chester Ave. $18 or $25 the day of; $66 for VIP, which includes 12:30 p.m. entry; tickets at eventbrite.com.

Contributing columnist Cesareo Garasa brings you The Lowdown on local music and entertainment every other Thursday.