Joel Ross: The Parable of the Poet — a novel approach with historical roots

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The seven movements of composer/vibraphonist Joel Ross’s The Parable of the Poet, his third album for Blue Note, use personal experiences as a springboard for collective endeavour. Solos emerge, but the dominant sonorities are the rich tones of four-brass layering overlapping melodies across a bed of rhythm. Titles like “Guilt”, “The Impetus (To Be and Do Better)” and “Benediction” signal Ross’s serious intent.

The work begins with the unaccompanied vibraphonist developing two notes into a glistening metallic sheen. A minute in, the pensive, gently rhythmic melody of “Prayer” crystallises and hovers in space. Mood established, the theme passes through the band and, embellished by brass, changes texture as it wends its way.

As the suite progresses, unaccompanied solos from Ross’s new-generation band introduce densely textured mood pieces that smooth over the cracks between the improvised and the pre-composed. The harmonic foundation is strong and the soft-focused rhythms are contemporary, but, as in jazz’s early years, it is each movement’s melody which inspires the saxophones and brass to coalesce and intertwine. It makes for a novel approach that has deep historical roots.

Trumpeter Marquis Hill and alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins are, like the leader, established musicians with projects of their own. Hill’s breathy ruminations set up the ominous, multi-layered sonorities of the mood-shifting “Choices”; it develops an up-beat gear at the halfway mark, then subsides into doubt. And Wilkins’s spiritual cries confidently launch the cut-and-thrust angularities of “Wail”.

The rest of the band are commanding new faces. Rick Rosato introduces “Guilt” with sparse strums of double bass, Kalia Vandever sets up “Impetus” with warm melodies from her slightly throaty trombone, and the spry “Doxology (Hope)” opens with Maria Grand spinning fast, stuttering lines on airy tenor sax.

“Benediction” is the final track, a combination of gospel inflections, hymnal harmonies and the swish of Craig Weinrib’s drums. Subtle Sean Mason piano voicings set the tone, the leader’s virtuosity stands out and the four brass weave magic within.

★★★★☆

The Parable of the Poet’ is released by Blue Note

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