Following Signs, saxophonist Justin Janer's debut as leader, is an assured recording. Janer leads a tight and disciplined quintet through seven original tunes and a cover of Bob Hilliard and Sammy Fain's "Alice in Wonderland," displaying his craft and individuality as a player and composer.
Musical high spots arise from the interplay between Janer's alto and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire
's exciting and often fierce playing. Both Janer and Akinmusire clearly enjoy working at the upper reaches of their instruments' ranges, and this leads to some vibrant exchanges. Akinmusire has an amazing ability to blow frenetic, powerful notes as if his life depended on it; his playing on the middle section of "Bump" epitomizes this approach. But their exchanges can also demonstrate a softer edge; on the opening of "Bright New Day" they play a light, almost sweet-sounding, duet.
On "Fidelity" the quintet is joined by guitarist Sebastian Cruz
. His addition leads to one of the most satisfying tunes on the album, with Cruz contributing a pure-toned and precise solo. Janer also excels here, playing predominantly in the lower to mid-range of his alto, and with a warmth that can be absent from his higher register playing. "Loss" also beautifully showcases Jane, a slow and reflective piece on which he moves effortlessly across the alto's range, accompanied only by the sympathetic playing of bassist Ruben Samma and drummer Michael W Davis. The same lineup plays on "California Sky"a stark contrast to "Loss"with driving, urgent, rhythm and frantic alto lines.
Janer is still in his mid-20s but has already received awards for his playing, including a Latin Grammy nomination for his part in Bobby Sanabria
and the Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra's Kenya RevisitedLive (Jazzheads Records, 2009). Moving from lead alto in a big band to heading up a small group is no easy task but Janer manages the move with confidence, helped by a talented band and a strong sense of his own musical identity that comes over clearly in his playing, to make Following Signs a notable debut.
Track Listing: Bright New Day; Following Signs; Alice in Wonderland; Fidelity; Song for Suji; Loss; California Sky; Bump.
Personnel: Justin Janer: alto saxophone; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Fabian Almazan: piano; Ruben Samama: bass; Will Clark: drums (1, 3, 5, 8); Michael W Davis: drums (2, 4, 6, 7); Sebastian Cruz: guitar (4).