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On May 26, Mack Avenue will release trumpeter Sean Jones’ new album, Live From Jazz At The Bistro, his eighth for the label. “I’ve been wanting to do a live album for a while,” Jones, 38, said. “I wanted to capture the band’s energy live and record what it’s like to go to one of my gigs. Granted, recording in a studio creates a polished sound where the music is all tied up. But this album, it’s real raw.”
Recorded at the St. Louis club Jazz at the Bistro, the seven-song album, produced by Al Pryor, features Jones presenting two versions of his band, as quartet and quintet. The longstanding quartet—comprising pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire—has been together for 11 years.
“Having a band this long is really rare in jazz these days,” Jones said. “When we play, it’s become like a conversation, like second nature.”
Drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. (subbing for Calvaire) plays on four tracks: “Art’s Variable,” “Doc’s Holiday,” “The Ungentrified Blues” and “BJ’s Tune.”
On the album’s four quintet tracks, Jones showcases alto and soprano saxophonist Brian Hogans, who composed the song “Piscean Dichotomy.”
The album opens with “Art’s Variable,” a Jones composition that begins with his playful trumpet line and features Evans imaginatively rushing on the keys. “I wrote that tune to imagine what it would have sounded like at a gig that Art Blakey might have done with John Coltrane,” Jones said.
The lyrical “Lost, Then Found” is highlighted by Jones and Hogans playing unison soprano sax-trumpet lines that develop into an echo of what each is playing. “We’ve been playing together for so long that we know where to go,” Jones said. “And I wanted to start the piece with Luques where he swings but also puts the Latin element into the heart of his playing.”
Hogans’ exhilarating “Piscean Dichotomy” starts with intensity but then, in the middle, gets spacey and dreamy and features Jones and the alto again playing killer harmony lines.
The swinging “Doc’s Holiday” is a rhythmically boozy tune written by Evans. It features local color supplied by Jones and Hogans and a tasty solo by the composer.
The blazing-to-soothing “The Ungentrified Blues” features Jones delivering a variety of trumpeting voicings, from screaming solos to staccato lines to a one-note hold that gets a rise from the crowd. It’s a tune Jones wrote when he was in St. Louis at a friend’s house right on the border of a gentrification housing project. “I wrote this as an eight-bar blues to get that raw blues form,” he said. “Sometimes we can play so fancy that we lose our grit. This is my way of not letting that happen.”
The up-tempo “Prof” is Jones’ tribute to one of his college teachers, the late William Fielder, who also taught such future trumpet stars as Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard and Terell Stafford, among many others. Nicknamed “Prof,” he was highly influential as a teacher, but he wasn’t a pushover. “Prof would mess with us,” Jones recalled. “He’d keep telling us, ‘You’re not hip enough, your lives are boring.’ So this is my response: another blues with 15 bars and a wacky melody with fourths. He loved fourths.”
The album closer, “BJ’s Tune,” opens as a lyrical beauty with Jones’ slow, alluring trumpet line, then builds about halfway through with rhythmic dynamics that ignite the piece with an r&b flavor. Jones soars with impressive solos before the tune morphs into a solo trumpet rendition of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” bringing an end to 14-minute journey.
Jones wrote the piece in New Orleans in 2004. “It’s a tribute to my nephew BJ, who is the son of my wild-child brother who became a minister,” Jones explained. “He sent me a picture of BJ and I got emotional thinking of the services that my brother and I attended growing up. It was a coming together in a spiritual community. The piece starts soft and then builds to a whole room of people crying out. I wrote the tune to fuse jazz and gospel.”
While Jones typically ends the piece by playing “Danny Boy,” on this occasion he transitioned into “Amazing Grace” because, he said, “that’s what I heard in the moment.”
Live From Jazz At The Bistro represents one more triumph in a career that has been impressive in its expanse of accomplishments. Jones is a gospel-bred drummer who switched to trumpet when he was 10 after hearing Miles Davis’ albums Kind Of Blue and Amandla. Jones found his jazz epiphany listening to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, which sparked the youngster’s desire to explore the spirituality of the music.
Jones received his master’s degree from Rutgers University, and then quickly began his ascent into the upper echelons of the jazz world.
He served for six years as the first-chair trumpeter for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, toured Europe with Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, and Wayne Shorter with a Miles Davis project, and is now in his fifth year as a member of the SFJAZZ Collective.
Heavily involved in jazz education, Jones has taught at Duquesne University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and he is now chair of the brass department at Berklee College of Music.
Jones and his quartet will play at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston on May 27. For more info on Jones, visit his website.
(To read an interview with drummer Jerome Jennings, who grew up with Sean Jones and who also studied with William Fielder, click here.) DB
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