The best comes to those who wait. Everyone has said and heard that old adage at one point or another in life. It is an adage that definitely applies in the case of The Jamie Lawrence Sextet’s debut album New York Suite. Lawrence started work on the album almost 30 years ago, but had put it on the back-burner so many times throughout his career. That sounds like something right out of Mr. Holland’s Opus does it not? The similarities are purely coincidental, but cannot be ignored. Getting back on topic, the five-song, 43-minute record from the Emmy and Clio Award-winning producer, composer and music director is a strong effort that proves to have been well worth the wait. That is proven in part through the album’s extensive title track and opener. It will be discussed shortly. Its finale, ‘Tongue Twister,’ also serves to support that statement, and will be discussed a little bit later. ‘Beluga Triangle’ is yet another example of what makes New York Suite such a surprising first effort from Lawrence. When it is considered along with the record’s title track/opener,
The Jamie Lawrence Sextet is scheduled to release its debut album New York Suite next month. Scheduled to be released independently Oct. 5, the five-song, 43-minute record is a surprisingly enjoyable work for jazz enthusiasts and the most devoted aficionados alike. That is proven in part through the varied arrangements presented throughout the record. The album’s opener, which is also its longest work at just over 21 minutes, conjures thoughts of the free jazz sounds of the 1950s and 60s. More specifically, listeners can almost instantly hear the influences of the likes of Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and other similar acts through Lawrence’s own work on the piano as it is joined with the musicianship of famed drummer Peter Erskine and fellow musicians Marty Ehrlich (alto sax, clarinet), J.D. Parran (tenor sax, clarinet, alto clarinet) and Jim Pugh (trombone). Bassist Carlos Henriquez even conjures thoughts of Charles Mingus circa 1959 with his own work.
Those collective talents keep the song completely engaging from start to end thanks to little things like the call and response of the saxes and horns presented early on in the song. The addition of special guest Ed Bialek’s harmonica line to the mix makes the song even more engaging thanks to his light, almost playful approach. The controlled chaos of the group that follows (and gives each member of the group his own moment in the limelight) paints a vivid picture of New York City that any listener will appreciate. It does this through the use of a series of movements that are clearly defined throughout the song. The first of those movements melds into the second movement just before the six-minute mark and the second. What’s interesting here is the subtle way in which that progression happens. That subtlety lets listeners know that something is changing, but doesn’t just push it in listeners’ faces and ears. That same subtlety is used as the song’s second “movement” progresses into its third. One could argue that a fourth “movement” closes out the overall arrangement in its final minutes. It is executed through a solo from Henriquez that is eventually complimented by his fellow musicians to finish off the song, and is just as engaging as the song’s other sections. From start to end, listeners will find themselves getting images of a busy 42nd Street, filled with cabs, the laid back vibes of Central Park and more in each movement. That Lawrence and company can create such a rich picture of life in New York’s various areas (including even the subway) is a tribute to their talents. It also serves to show that not only is it a strong first impression from Lawrence and company, but how much the album has to offer listeners. It is not the only work that stands out in the record’s overall presentation. The record’s closer, ‘Tongue Twister’ boasts its own merits.
‘Tongue Twister,’ the record’s closer, switches things up a bit by crossing the group’s already familiar free jazz styling and crossing it with a little bit of a Latin jazz vibe. Even more interesting is that the use of the electric bass here generates a sort of fusion vibe. One might not think that grouping Latin, fusion and free jazz would work in one composition, but they are expertly balanced throughout. The end result is a work that presents its own sense of chaotic yet enjoyable chaos. That is due not only to the work of Lawrence and his fellow musicians, but also to the attention put into balancing each musician’s talents with those of his counterparts. Case in point is the balance between Lawrence’s work on the piano, Jon Faddis’ trumpet line and Parker’s time keeping. All three lines are prominent throughout the majority of the song, but are not the only notable additions to the arrangement. When sax players George Young and Lou Marini join the mix, their funky, upbeat arrangements mix just as well with their band mates to create a fun whole that is certain to have any listener on his or her feet. To that end, the whole group together creates what is a solid finale to this record and one more example of what makes New York Suite such an enjoyable offering from the Jamie Lawrence Sextet. It still is not the last of the record’s most notable tracks. ‘Beluga Triangle’ is one more positive addition to the album.
‘Beluga Triangle’ stands out because it paints a picture that is so dramatically different from its counterparts on this album. It presents a more nuanced, focused feel than those songs, and one that is more emotional, too. That is evidenced early on through the balance of Lawrence’s piano line and the work of his fellow musicians. Saxophonist Eddie Daniels’ John Coltrane-esque performance and drummer Ronnie Zito’s subtle yet solid time keeping make for a wonderful juxtaposition that adds so much to the song’s whole. When they join with Lawrence’s piano line and trombonist Jim Pugh’s own work, the whole of the group’s work becomes a work that is just as engaging as New York Suite’s other works because of that balance. As a matter of fact, the overall subtlety in the composition and the balance in the lines creates an atmosphere that could be argued to be even more engaging than the record’s other offerings. It’s one of those works that proves the old adage true that less is more. When this is considered along with the engagement and entertainment offered through the rest of the album’s entries, the whole of the album proves to be a surprisingly enjoyable work that jazz fans of all levels will appreciate.
The Jamie Lawrence Sextet’s debut album New York Suite is one of the most surprising releases of this year’s new jazz offerings. It is a record that continues to show the expansive talents of its namesake, who has spent decades making music for television, and his fellow musicians. From the rich picture painted in the record’s opener and title track — which gives listeners a vivid picture of life in New York City — to the equally engaging Latin/free jazz sound of ‘Tongue Twister’ to the moving ‘Beluga Triangle’ and more, this 43 minute record is a solid start for Lawrence and company. By the time it’s over, jazz fans of all levels will agree that hopefully it will be just the beginning for Lawrence and company. The album is currently scheduled to be released Oct. 5. More information on New York Suite is available online now along with Jamie Lawrence’s latest news at:
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