Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sean Jones. Never Before Seen

Sean Jones. Never Before Seen.
Mack Avenue Records, 2014.  Jones:

Sean Jones has been remarkably busy, although this is nothing new for him.  He is the Artistic Director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, has taught at both Duquesne University and Oberlin College, and is now at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.  He has managed to put out seven albums now as leader (aside from the CJO stuff), and worked as a sideman on lots more.  In his spare time he composes,  advocates for jazz, and helps to start jazz orchestras, as well as reading philosophy on the side.  Having graduated from YSU only in 2000, one might be tempted to label him an overachiever, but when you listen to him play, you realize that he’s both driven and remarkably skilled with his trumpet, his leadership, and his vision.  

This latest album, celebrating his tenth anniversary with Mack Avenue, finds him with some of the same excellent musicians who appeared on his last release, No Need for Words, although this album strips out several instruments and gets down to the basics of a quartet.  Jones says in the album notes (and his blog) that he wants to reintroduce himself, relaunch himself, recreate himself.  Thus, he keeps this one simple with no overdubs and everybody-in-the-studio intimacy.  He succeeds in every way.  

Jones’ trumpet style has many influences, including Miles Davis, Woody Shaw, and Freddie Hubbard, and he gets the hard work part both from his own personality and background as well as some time spent with Wynton Marsalis.  He brings in everything to this album, including seven of his own compositions (Evans contributed “Don’t Fall off the L.E.J.”), a couple of standards and a Jackie McLean tune, “Dr. Jekyll.”  The title of the first track, “60th and Broadway,” comes from the location of the Rose Theater of the Lincoln Center in New York City, where Jones has spent much time, and is a good place to start.  It begins with Jones and Obed Calvaire, then builds to include the other musicians, but showcases Jones’ virtuosity while giving ample time to Orrin Evans.  Calvaire is never out of the picture, and the interaction among the musicians is obvious and delightful.  This continues throughout the album.  The ballad “Dark Times” seems to borrow a riff from “It Ain’t Necessarily So” as a starting point, and moves into an exploratory, contemplative mood for all.  This continues with “Interior Motive,” although here the rhythm section is more noticeable (now I hear bits of “I Want to Be Happy”), and “The Morning After.”  Later in the album, “We’ll Meet Under the Stars” takes a similar approach.  All hold the attention and please the ear with gentle yet sophisticated playing by all members.  The presence of Orrin Evans cannot be overlooked, as he plays a key role in every tune.

The quartet changes its mood with “I Don’t Give a Damn Blues,” which shows how well they can play in a traditional style, a good test for a band.  It’s all Jones on the McLean tune, fast and furious.  A second test comes with a standard--what can you do with a song from 1940?  As it turns out, quite a bit.  With a solo by Luques Curtis and some fine work by everyone, they play “How High the Moon” like nobody else I’ve heard.  The beauty of the melody is never far from the improvisations, but they reach into new places and find new things to say. “New Journey” gives us a more uptempo tune, but with the same amazing ensemble work demonstrated in the ballads.  Two shorter tracks fill out the album, but they’re hardly filler.  Evans’ “Don’t Fall off the L.E.J.” (I wish I knew what that meant) is jaunty and spirited, while “Not While I’m Around” is another sweet and gentle ballad.

I listened to this album several times and not a moment was wasted.  The quartet does a masterful job of putting across a variety of moods, demonstrates the benefits of spontaneous interaction, and gives great listening pleasure.  Highly recommended.

Personnel: Sean Jones (trumpet), Orrin Evans (piano), Luques Curtis (bass), Obed Calvaire (drums).
Tracks:  60th & Broadway, Dark Times, Interior Motive, The Morning After, I Don’t Give a Damn Blues, Dr. Jekyll, How High the Moon, We’ll Meet Under the Stars, New Journey, Don’t Fall off the L.E.J., Not While I’m Around.

Jeff Wanser

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