Monday, November 6, 2017

Sean Jones’ Eighth Album on Mack Avenue


This past May Mack Avenue released its latest album of jazz trumpeter Sean Jones. The title of the album is Live from Jazz at the Bistro, and the recordings were made during an engagement at Jazz at the Bistro in St. Louis, Missouri, between December 3 and 5 of 2015. Jones, who alternated between trumpet and flugelhorn, led a quintet whose other members were Brian Hogans on alto and soprano saxophone, Orrin Evans on piano, and Luques Curtis on bass. Drums alternated between Obed Calvaire and Mark Whitfield Jr.

Jones is probably best known here in San Francisco as an Artist-in-Residence for San Francisco Performances (SFP). By virtue of this position, as was announced at the end of last month, he will be kicking off this season’s Concerts with Conversation series at the Community Music Center (CMC), events that CMC arranges in conjunction with SFP. He was also one of the performers invited to play at A Heartfelt Gala, the program arranged to honor SFP founder and President Emeritus Ruth Felt on the occasion of her retirement after 37 years of leading the organization.

Jones has much to say about having been strongly influenced by the work of Miles Davis. However, his decision to bring the flugelhorn to an original composition that he named “Art’s Variable” suggests that at least one other influence is in play, that being Art Farmer. Farmer frequently had a rhetoric of understatement that pursued its own distinct direction in comparison with Davis’ venture into the “cool.” On “Art’s Variable” one can listen to Jones trying on that particular brand of understatement for size, so to speak; and, while the rest of his group does not necessarily follow him into that territory, the result is still the shaping of an original voice through a new source for reflection.

All but two of the tracks are Jones originals. One is “Piscean Dichotomy” by Hogans. It should be no surprise that Jones cedes the field to Hogans to allow him his own approach to rhetoric for some engaging saxophone solo work. Whether or not the piece actually has astrological implications is left for the listener to decide.

The other track is Evans “Doc’s Holiday.” Evans originally recorded this on his own album, #knowingishalfthebattle, with Kevin Eubanks on guitar and Curtis on bass (as well as Caleb Wheeler Curtis on winds). Given how often “Doc” is used as a nickname, it is unclear what the reference of the title may be (or if there is a reference at all). The version on this recording is a fascinating study in dissonances that arise from the interleaving of the melody lines played simultaneously by Jones and Hogans.

This appears to be Jones’ first “live” album. This is laudable, since jazz really comes to life only in the immediacy of in-the-moment playing. However, the album is the product of three evenings’ worth of recordings. Selection was clearly involved in making the album, which means that Jones had the final say of picking some cherries and discarding others. Nevertheless, one can still apprehend the freshness of the performances on this album, not to mention the levels of inventiveness that are solidly grounded in past practices while seeking out new directions to pursue.

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