Alto saxophonist Darius Jones' birthplace was Virginia, where, historically, slavery was as indigenous to the state as the cotton fields. Inheriting a tradition of story- telling through music, Jones considers his debut, Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing), "one sonic tone poem" that describes different aspects of growing up on a farm, in a loving family setting, where he listened to music ranging from reggae to classical. Jones composed five of the record's eight tracks, with co-writing credit on the other three.
Coupled with his highly experienced mentors, multi-instrumentalist and pianist Cooper-Moore and drummer Rakalam Bob Moses, thirty-one year old altoist Jones melds a trio whose central avenue for expression becomes how well the alto shows its face both within hard-driving rhythmic swing and the edgy eloquence of the improvisation.
Jones carries a strong lead, using a process that can slowly build and stretch the melody over a rocking piano line and incessant drum flurries ("Cry Out") or construct auditory images out of an array of carefully chosen phrases ("Big Train Rollin'"). Jones illustrates with his horn just as much as he seeks multiple tones ensconced in color ("Roosevelt"). It is easy for him to describe disturbing anguish by wailing, tooting or screaming with split tones ("Cry Out"); convey a peculiar wonder with an ever-changing line that concludes with vibratos ("We Are Unicorns"); or, with pure and reedy blue notes that march up the scale ("Meekness"), display a kind of longing that only his big-hearted sensibility can express. He is fearless to explore outside of conventional boundaries as he runs arpeggios in the company of tatting cymbals and drums ("Salty"). He does not refrain from repeating themes that trigger a volume of phrasings or a rally of gutsy slurred notes through an active percussion line ("Chasin' The Ghost").
Fundamental to Jones' musical integrity is the percussion. Cooper-Moore's instinct for how rhythm shapes musicality is inimitable. His solid piano playing can maintain a captivating heavy bass chord pulse, with one hand, and, with the other, imitate the bass figures, interspersed with flying treble chords, notes, runs and trills ("Cry Out"). But Cooper-Moore's performance on the diddley-bo extends and bends the atmospheric sound unlike any other instrument could, as he incorporates its wide-open identity into the flow of the drumming ("Chasin' The Ghost," "We Are Unicorns," "Salty"). Furthermore, Moses' drum work sustains the backdrop, with a constancy that is relentless, but not over-charged. If he is not tatting and rolling his sticks on the snare, he is flicking or swooshing the cymbals. At the conclusion of "Big Train Rollin,'" Moses picks up the mallets to soften the drums' impact, not to detract from, but to emphasize the subject of the music.
In the last piece, Jones' "Forgive Me," Cooper-Moore introduces an irrepressibly soulful tune. Jones follows with equal voice, only to yield to Cooper-Moore who continues to evoke the song's tenderness until its end. It is this tenderness that typifies the recording, the child of one "man'ish boy."
Personnel: Darius Jones: alto saxophone; Cooper-Moore: piano, diddley-bo;
Rakalam Bob Moses: drums.