Joel Ross

(Blue Note)

On KingMaker, vibraphonist Joel Ross’ debut leader date, original compositions come to life in the hands of Good Vibes, an ensemble of tightknit New York music school friends. Together, they synthesize the bandleader’s questions and observations into an emotionally satisfying, intricately rhythmed, precisely executed and cleanly produced album.

Ross’ playing erupts through the layers of lush arrangements (by him and Harish Raghavan) like consistent currents of electricity, high-powered and full of luminous energy. These bright bursts of solos and melodic lines surprise, excite and stretch the pieces further. “The Grand Struggle Against Fear” is especially powerful, featuring wildly individualistic solos stepping into and extending one another, from Jeremy Corren’s rich piano harmonies to Ross’ agitated repeats and Immanuel Wilkins’ decomposing melody on the alto and back again.

Within these transitions, and in the delicate corners and folds of the album, lie its most tenacious and tender moments: the rhythmic disruption of the vamp at the end of “Ill Relations,” the waterfalls of sound at the end of Wilkins’ inventive solo on drummer Jeremy Dutton’s composition “Grey” (the one piece here not written by Ross) and the softness of the vibes’ rare, long decay during the haunting introduction of “Freda’s Disposition” (which easily could continue to engage listeners for much longer). On this last piece, veteran vocalist Gretchen Parlato joins the young players, floating atop the harmony in her signature style, whispering the warm reassurances of safety and comfort in Bianca Muniz’s lyric.

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