Discovering Wild and Wonderful Jazz

Sean Jones & Esperanza Spalding

When asked to name their favorite kind of music, many folks will say they listen to mostly one kind; be it country, hip hop, hard rock, rap, etc. I, and most of my musician friends and acquaintances will tell you we listen to many different styles of music and our current favorite changes often, frequently triggered by a chance hearing of some new piece of music in concert or, as in my case in many instances, on TV. My recording collection is pretty eclectic: it contains classical music from the Renaissance to the avant-garde, lots of choral music of all kinds – sacred and secular, classic rock, progressive rock, alternative rock, music of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, RUSH, Dream Theater, a little country, and little jazz, very little opera.

Recently I began relearning to play the trumpet, regaining my “chops” so to speak. I had played all through junior and senior high school and, though I didn’t major on trumpet as an undergraduate at the College-Conservatory of Music, and I continued to play up through my junior year in Cincinnati. Because I missed the joy playing used to bring me, I decided to return to playing the trumpet. I mention this here because it has led me to shift my listening interests to Jazz. Reviewed here are two albums I have happily come upon.

Sean Jones: The Search Within
© 2009 Mack Avenue Records
Label: Mack Avenue Records
Rating: 5 out of 5

Sean Jones was on the faculty of Duquesne University while i was finishing my masters degree. I was aware of him, but never met him, nor heard him play, and that’s to bad. But I became intrigued and anxious to hear his music. Sean Jones as a trumpeter, said to be of the lineage of Clifford Brown, possesses a beautiful tone and serious improvisatory skills. But what impresses me most is his talent as a composer.  Jones’ original pieces seem at once new and familiar: very tuneful and accessible. The Search Within s not Jones’ most recent release (for that, see im*pro*vise never before seen), but I review it here instead, because of one song on the album: “Love’s Lullaby”. I have long championed the belief that music as a language has the ability to communicate incredible depth of emotion – much more so than written language. To be clear, the album as a whole is fabulous, but on first hearing, “Love’s Lullaby” so affected me emotionally that I could hardly move. I have purchased several copies and given them to friends, motivated solely by the beauty of this one song. “Transitions” is a hot, up tempo number that really shows off the ensemble’s cohesiveness. “Life Cycles” is one of those easy tunes that sounds familiar, even though it’s original on this release, “Sean’s Jones Comes Down”, one of two songs not composed by Jones, displays the ensemble’s ability to easily shift meters without loosing it’s fluidity. All that being said, “Love’s Lullaby” is the gem of the album.

Favorite Tracks:

  1. Transitions – Track 2
  2. Life Cycles – Track 4
  3. Sean’s Jones Comes Down – Track 10
  4. Love’s Lullaby – Track 11
Esperanza Spalding: Emily’s D+Evolution
© 2016 Esperanza Spalding Production
Label: Concord Records
Rating: 5 out of 5

When I was an undergraduate in Cincinnati, I used to love to walk into the music library, pick out a recording at random (they were only LP’s then), go into a listening booth and, without looking at the album cover, experience new, unfamiliar music. Sometimes, (often enough in fact) the results were “ho hum”, but once in a while, the experience was remarkable, unbelievably beautiful. This is how I experienced the wonder of Brahms’ 4th Symphony, Gerald Finzi’s Lo, the Full Final Sacrifice, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, among others. JAZZIZ magazine often includes CDs with their issues which contain 26 or so tracks from just as many jazz artists. Listening to these sampler CDs reminds me of those days; from track to track you just don’t know what you’re going to get.

JAZZIZ’s Summer 2016 CDs contain several songs that piqued my interest, but one in particular, “Noble Nobles” by Esperanza Spalding, is one of those songs that had that what-was-that effect on me. I can’t tell you how many times I listened to that track; I simply had not heard anything like it before and couldn’t wait to hear the other tracks on the CD. It’s a kind of jazz that amazes me – jazz fusion to be sure, but very different than any I have experienced before, such as Weather Report. Spalding as a bassist and singer is a super talent, but, like Sean Jones, her ability to craft a song is what impresses me most. The songs on Emily’s D-Evolution are varied in style. All are genuinely interesting but a few are just spectacular. “Good Lava” has tons of unpredictable energy, “Noble Nobles” is just plain beautiful while still being unusual, and the alternate version of “Unpredictable Love” contains an extended improvisatory section where the work of Spalding on bass, Matthew Stevens on guitar and Justin Tyson on drums is as exciting as the best progressive rock you have ever heard.

Favorite Tracks:

  1. Good Lava – Track 1
  2. Unconditional Love – Track 2
  3. Noble Nobles – Track 8
  4. Unconditional Love (Alternate Version) – Track 14