Vibraphonist Joel Ross released his debut full-length studio recording Kingmaker early this month. Ross stated in an interview about the 12 songs that make up the 67-minute body of the album, that the songs are “influenced by people or events, relationships I had, or even a question someone posed.” According to information provided about the album, many of the songs are tributes to his family, so in other words, the album is itself a full-on musical tribute to the people who played a part in one way or another in his personal development. The compositions spawned from those experiences are works that will appeal to jazz fans of all backgrounds. The album’s opener, ‘Touched by an Angel’ is just one of the works that supports the noted statements. It will be addressed shortly. ‘Is It Love That Inspires You,’ which comes just ahead of the album’s midway point, does just as much to support those statements. It will be addressed a little later. ‘It’s Too Late,’ the album’s finale, is another example of the power of Ross’ experiences on his music. It will also be discussed later. When it and the other two songs noted here are considered along with the nine songs that make up the rest of the record, the whole of Kingmaker proves to be a record that could easily take the crown on any jazz critic’s list of the year’s top new jazz albums.
Joel Ross’ debut full-length studio recording Kingmaker is a strong start for the Chicago-born, Brooklyn-raised vibraphonist. It is a record whose compositions – crafted apparently from experiences in Ross’ own life – make it worthy of the crown in this year’s field of new jazz albums. That is proven in part through the album’s opener, ‘Touched By An Angel.’ The song stands out because it exhibits the ability of Ross and company – Benjamin Tiberio (bass), Immanuel Wilkins (alto sax), Jeremy Corren (piano) and Jeremy Dutton (drums) – to play slow with control and more upbeat with just as much talent. As the old adage states, anyone can play fast, but it takes a real musician to play slow and with control. The song opens very down-tempo, with Ross creating the song’s foundation through a series of chords alone. After a few opening bars, the subtle sound of the vibraphones. Corren and Dutton eventually join in, performing in similarly subtle fashion. As the song gradually progresses, Wilkins joins in, too making the arrangement even fuller. As the song reaches and passes its midway point, Wilkins takes the lead, while Dutton adds his own fills (at the same time keeping solid time). Ross even starts to add his own flare to the composition with an almost seemingly improvisational style performance. By the time Ross and company reach the song’s final couple of minutes, it slows back down, yet all involved still maintain such control while presenting such a welcome improvisational style in their performances. By the time the song reaches its finale, audiences will not even realize that the song has run for almost 11 minutes. In other words, the way in which the song progresses and the talent exhibited by each musician creates a song that keeps listeners engaged and entertained with ease. It really does an exceptional job of illustrating what must have been such a positive experience in this case for Ross. To that end, it would be interesting to learn what experience Ross had that led to the song’s creation. It is just one of the songs that stands out among Kingmaker’s dozen total songs. ‘Is It Love That Inspires You’ stands out just as much as ‘Touched By An Angel.’
‘Is It Love That Inspires You,’ unlike ‘Touched By An Angel,’ is a rather upbeat composition. Ross takes the lead in this song while Dutton adds his own touch to the work. The subtlety in Tiberio’s work on bass and Dutton’s full-on solos (which fully put on display his stick control and knowledge of his rudiments), add even more enjoyment to the song. The upbeat feel from the group in whole serves to illustrate the nature of the song’s title very well. Given, it is unknown if the “love” in this case is familial or if it is romantic. This critic does not have liner notes to offer background. Even with that in mind, the positive feel and energy in the composition goes a long way toward presenting the positive emotion that is implied in the title. To that end, the song in whole becomes another clear example of why Kingmaker is such a strong offering from Ross and company. It is not the last of the album’s most notable additions. ‘It’s Too Late,’ the album’s finale, is another standout addition to the album.
‘It’s Too Late,’ like the other songs discussed here, stands out because of the ability of Ross and company to so expertly illustrate the mood set by the song’s title. When one thinks of the statement, “It’s too late,” that is more often than not spoken and written in a negative connotation and associated with negative situations. Sure, there are times when it is used in positive situations, but more often than not it is associated with negative situations. That sentiment is expressed very well in this case, as Ross and company present a composition that exhibits a certain sense of melancholy. Even with Dutton’s impeccable time keeping in what is an otherwise upbeat song in terms of tempo, the mood is one of some introspection, even as the song slowly fades in its final bars. Considering all of this, it would once again be interesting to learn the experience that served as the inspiration for this song, as it is certain to be an interesting story. The same applies to the other songs discussed here and the rest of the album’s works. Each work featured in this record does an equally good job of telling its own musical story. When they are all considered, they collectively make Kingmaker a record whose stories are certain to appeal to a wide range of listeners. Keeping that in mind, it becomes one of the year’s strongest new jazz records and potentially one of the year’s top new albums overall.
Joel Ross’ debut album Kingmaker is a solid first effort from the up-and-coming multi-talented musician and his fellow performers. That is due to a dozen featured songs that tell their own specific story in connection with the songs’ titles. The songs also go a long way toward exhibiting the talents and abilities of each musician. All three of the songs featured here support those statements. When they are considered along with the nine remaining songs not addressed here, they collectively make Kingmaker a viable candidate for the crown on this year’s new jazz and blues records and even a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s top new albums overall. Kingmaker is available now. More information on Kingmaker is available online now along with all of Joel Ross’ latest news and more at:
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