Who Are You?
Joel Ross was just 23 when he released KingMaker – a hell of an album, his debut as a leader. Not much more than a year on he’s back with this second album leading the band (a killer-good band) and making a case for himself, already, as a rejuvenating force for – and with – the vibraphone. It’s a dexterous instrument with a duel role as rhythmic force and melodic conduit. Ross takes both roles seriously and knows how to effortlessly switch between them – giving ample space to the other soloists in his band as well. In particular Immanuel Wilkins on the alto sax and Jeremy Corren at the piano. But also harp-playing wunderkind Brandee Younger sits in on roughly half of the album and the interplay between her instrument and Ross’ is sublime. New bassist Kano Mendenhall replaces Benjamin Tiberio from the first record and drummer Jeremy Dutton continues to build layers (Art Blakey) and offer surprise attacks (Elvin Jones) in a manner so befitting of the spiritually informed modern jazz that’s on offer here.
The spirit of Coltrane is here (More?) and then deftly acknowledged outright with a beautiful version of After The Rain.
The album in fact builds and builds – through post-bop and balladry and offering a hark back to the post ‘cool’ jazz of the 60s and 70s, both European and American – and it feels like it all moves towards the giant album-centrepiece, Vartha. Here, across 10 minutes the band moves like a collective muscle – it’s lithe and captivating, the music so tight and exquisite but also bubbling over with ideas.
Argentina’s great gift to the saxophone, Leandro “Gato” Barbieri is acknowledged in tribute via a new Ross composition, Gato’s Gift. That’s the real depth here I think, the compositions. Ross is already one hell of a player and bandleader and the confidence in both would be astounding even without the conviction of – and in – his tunes. But these pieces feel like those written by a much older head, someone more musically experienced. It shows you that experience is not about age at all, that age is only a number – and that works both ways.
What we might yet hear from this man and his band is already teasingly exciting. But what we have here is a masterclass, a modern day triumph – a brand new jazz album that feels like it could have been extracted from the vaults, yet it pulses with the spirit of today.
You can support Off The Tracks via PressPatron