This is a top notch album on every level, and one that looks to the tradition and how to move it forward.

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Joel Ross (vibraphone, piano); Immanuel Wilkins (alto saxophone); Jeremy Corren (piano); Kanoa Mendenhall (bass), Jeremy Dutton (drums) & Special Guest – Gabrielle Garo (flute)

With this his fourth album for Blue Note, vibes player Joel Ross looks back towards the roots of the music in the blues and ballads, and rather than be weighed down by history has come up with a fresh and invigorating way of presenting these building block of jazz within his own artistic vision.

The genesis of the album began during the pandemic. As live venues were forced to close their doors, Ross took the opportunity to further his studies enrolling at New School in New York to complete his degree. Encouraged by his class tutor, Darius Jones, Ross was inspired to investigate the blues, not primarily from a theoretical point, but to fully understand the feeling and spirit of the blues.

Ross’s deep dive into the music has served him well, and the lessons learned have translated into some truly inspired music from the vibraphonist. Of the ten compositions featured, seven are by Ross, along with two from Coltrane’s book and one by Monk; and what is impressive is how the way Ross hears the blues and the sound of group and brings standards and originals to life with a contemporary vibe.

The opening ‘Early’ with its open-ended feel is a smart way to introduce the music and the musicians. The blues feeling is present as well as hints of the freedom that the blues can offer, and the band do peer over the precipice into free jazz. The piece then moves seamlessly into a superb ‘Equinox’ by Coltrane, and Ross’s solo is packed with incident. This is also true of alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins who has a keen grasp on the blues and Ross’s concept for the music.

Flautist Gabrielle Garo appears on three pieces that take up the middle of the album with the spellbindingly lovely ‘Chant; featuring Ross on piano and overdubbed flute choir, and this is followed by the full band with Garo in ‘What Am I Waiting For?’ which serves as nice way of introducing ‘’Bach (God the Father in Eternity)’ with Coren’s lovely piano introduction to this most formal of pieces. Written by Joel this a most reverential and hymnlike piece of music that unfolds in magnificent manner, with a crafted arrangement that allows Ross’s vibes to solo over the top but always with the main theme firmly in mind.

The album then concludes with the core quintet with three gloriously long tracks, each at over eight minutes that do justice to the compositions and allow the musicians to stretch out. Ross’s intro to ‘Nublues’ is a joy and ‘Ya Know?’ is a well thought out piece that elicits some wonderful playing from the altoist.

Stepping away from the originals to close with a respectful ‘Central Park West’ is a shrewd move, but not as shrewd as the sparkling and adventuress ‘Evidence’ by Thelonious Monk that precedes it, and a composition that the whole quintet gets stuck into.

This is a top notch album on every level, and one that looks to the tradition and how to move it forward.