Jeanfrançois Prins

Blue Note Mode

How much of post-1965 jazz history has been a search for that perfect sweet spot between its popular- and art-music foci? Well, with Blue Note Mode, Belgian guitarist Jeanfrançois Prins seems to have found it. If the title doesn’t tell you that (not coincidentally, the album was recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio), his bandmembers — hornmen Jeremy Pelt and Jaleel Shaw, pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer E.J. Strickland — should.

Indeed, there’s a certain lenticular-image nature to Blue Note Mode. Examined from one angle, it’s a hard-bop record: full of swing and the blues, hot, wailing horns (“Blue Note Mode,” “Move or Be Moved”) and the liquid clarity of Prins’ guitar tone (“Diana,” “’Round Midnight”). Approached from another angle, though, it’s an exploratory, post-bop album with unconventional forms and shifting time-feels (“H and C’s Dance”), unsettling harmonies (“Blues Sea”) and standards refit with hip-hoppish rhythms (“Daahoud”). Never, though, does that dichotomy feel forced, or bipolar. It’s all a beautifully cohesive tapestry.

And it clearly inspires all involved. Trumpeter Pelt, in particular, is on a tear; every time he takes the solo spotlight, he blazes across it. Prins’ “Move Or Be Moved” is a brilliant example: Out of Shaw’s propulsive alto line, Pelt takes off like he’s been stung by a bee, with each consecutive phrase a new fanfare. Prins routinely follows Pelt in the solo sequences, and whether by the latter’s inspiration or his own spark, he always seems to make par. On the title track, the trumpeter ends his solo with a touch of coolant, which Prins immediately discards in order to scorch up the joint.

Importantly, though, Prins can generate serious electricity without the horns, and does so on six of the album’s 12 tracks. He and Grissett lay down a scintillating double-solo marathon on the guitarist’s “I’m Movin’ On” and “Ornette-Lee” (ironic that the latter, named for two of Prins’ favorite saxophonists, has no horns). The leader then surprises with a sweet crooning vocal on the closing “Too Late Now.” It’s a beautiful moment that renders pop-or-art identities irrelevant.

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