Monday, May 20, 2019

Joel Ross - KingMaker (Blue Note, 2019)

Vibraphonist Joel Ross broke through in 2018, playing in well regarded albums by the likes of Makaya McCraven and Walter Smith III, before releasing his debut album this year. This is a strong modern mainstream outing which also features Harish Raghavan on bass, Immanuel Wilkins on alto saxophone, Jeremy Corren on piano, Benjamin Tiberio on bass, and Jeremy Dutton on drums. "Prince Lynn's Twin" has a gentle opening, with a spacious and soft full band sound, bouncing up about a minute in to ripe full band playing. They develop a medium tempo featuring an interesting rhythm with vibes and percussion interweaving, aligning with rippling piano and taut bass. Ross solos, achieving a confident metallic tone that is crisply played, leading to an interesting section where the vibes sounding nimble and fast, trade phrases with the saxophone at high speed over tight bass and drums support. A yearning mid-tempo melody, "The Struggle Against Fear" develops haunting piano and feather light drums, along with vibes which have a crystalline quality, and saxophone sounding skittish and anxious, all of which add to the emotional quality of the performance. Ross' vibes have a sharper sound, playing fast as the band builds to an waxing and waning emotional feeling. "Ill Relations" ushers in a light toned theme from the group, but one that is nimble and quick in step, because the musicians can shift very quickly, in tempo or overall feeling, with Ross adding flurries of notes, then stepping back for the others to add their thoughts. Melding stronger drums and blustery saxophone with replies of lightning fast vibes in a call and response manner keeps the music moving briskly before downshifting to feature thick resonant bass which drives the group hard to the conclusion of the piece.There is a fast vibes led theme on "Is It Love That Inspires You?" with tight bass and drums in a nimble trio setting, developing a complex improvisation that is very interesting to hear. They are playing at a very fast speed and improvising on rhythmic interactions, allowing for freer drum play, soloing at length with hints of vibes, and the trio coming together for a fast finish. "KingMaker" Builds slowly with Ross' vibes resonating for a change instead of having that hard metallic sound, taking the band into a medium tempo setting, gradually building up emotion with the saxophone adding squalls of stark sound juxtaposed against the cleaner vibes and piano. The music sways nicely from melodic to deeply improvisational and clears space for solo features and an inspired full band conclusion. This was a strong debut from a talented musician; Blue Note has a history of breaking top flight vibes payers from Bobby Hutcherson to Stefon Harris, so hopefully they will provide Ross with the same well deserved support. KingMaker -

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