With a style that is reverential yet modern, Keith Javors’ Mo’ City Jungle pays tribute to the Detroit jazz scene with a programme of nine originals that bristle with energy, group interplay and soloing of the highest order.
Javors is a thirty-something pianist who is also an educator at the University of North Florida; but refuting the adage that “those who can’t do, teach,” Javors’ writing and playing could only come from someone who has done plenty. With a style that favours the modal approach of artists including McCoy Tyner and Mulgrew Miller, Javors writes charts that blend the rhythmic energy of Art Blakey with a more modern harmonic approach. The title track is a minor blues that features the front line of alto player Dane Bays, tenor man Juan Carlos Rollan and trumpeter Ray Callender navigating a theme that winds in and out of dissonance. That these players, and the rhythm section for that matter, are complete unknowns is a disservice that demands rectification.
It is not often that a straight-ahead post bop album from a group of unknowns comes along that makes one stand up and take notice. Comparable in energy and invention to Kenny Garrett’s 2003 career highpoint, Standard of Language , this may be Javors’ third album as a leader, but is the first to be released on an independent label of significance which is putting some promotional effort behind it.
Even more relaxed tunes like “Sierra Nicole’s Bossa” have vibrancy, a sense of excitement and discovery, which sets them apart. Rollan states the theme with confidence, offering nuances that pay homage to Michael Brecker without being imitative. “Ian Keith,” a jazz waltz, demonstrates an admirable group dynamic; Javors’ accompaniment demands attention without dominating and his solo swings fiercely. Drummer John Davis is clearly in synch with Javors and Ravelo as he pushes and pulls the rhythm, creating credible moments of tension throughout.
“Conclusion of the Matter” is an up-tempo romp that, again, features a front line theme that uses close harmonies to create a sense of tension and release. “In Essence” is a medium tempo walker, again demonstrating Javors’ ability to deliver a memorable chart that provides a solid foundation over which the soloists can extemporize. Callender’s trumpet solo is especially impressive; a thematic solo that is the definition of spontaneous composition.
Chris Potter is quoted on the cover, describing the recording as “...extremely high calibre...a collective spirit of ‘going for it’ that brings the music joyously to life.” Not since Garrett’s Standard of Language and Terence Blanchard’s Bounce has there been a post bop album this exciting. Mo’ City Jungle is not for the faint-at-heart; this is vital, energized music that is captivating from start to finish. Keith Javors and the entire group deserve to reach a larger audience; hopefully this recording will help make that a reality.
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Personnel: Keith Javors (piano), Ricky Ravelo (bass), John Davis (drums), Dane Bays (alto saxophone), Juan Carlos Rollan (tenor saxophone), Ray Callender (trumpet, flugelhorn)