How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
There are times when it feels as though even Eric Darius isn't entirely sure what he wants to do with his immense talent. On A Mission is a restless search by a young man confident in his abilities but not fully committed to any one direction.
With 24 musicians, five producers and eight studios from Canada to Jamaica, On A Mission positively screams "overproduction." There's a lot going on across these ten tracks, and Darius almost gets swallowed up in the clutter. The operative word is "almost," because Darius alternates between tenor and alto saxophone with unbridled energy and power. Throughout this relentlessly up-tempo album, Darius' muscular style of playing saxophone punches up even most the overly familiar material.
The theory behind On A Mission is for Darius is to try on several different styles and see how they fit. Darius and his producers explore hip hop, fusion, acid jazz, straight-up funk and R& ,B to various degrees of success. The dynamic "Kingston Flavor" tries on some reggae. "Settin' It Off" is a noisy stomper, but sounds great booming out of a set of speakers. "Let's Go!" has plenty of energy, but is marred by annoying vocals and a weak rap. Introducing Auto Tuned vocals to a jazz album is sheer poison; the words "jazz" and "Auto-Tune" should never show up in the same sentence. Darius may be aiming for a younger audience by employing such lame studio trickery, but it comes off as slick pandering.
The risk in mashing-up various genres is that some succeed brilliant while others sadly fall flat. But when it all comes together, as it does on "Uptown Swagger" ably assisted by a sparkling solo from keyboardist James Lloyd
's"Butterfly" almost sounds like it dropped in from a different record, but the lavish arrangement is gorgeous, and a nice chilled-out change of pace from the relentless pace Darius sets for himself. Trumpeter Rick Braun
soars on his solo, while the rhythm section the improbably named bassist XXavier Chisholm and drummer Third Richardsonholds down the groove.
With his big "wall of sound" production, boundless energy and obvious passion, Darius can get down with the best of them. He knows when to raise the roof and when to throttle it back, as he alternates from the loud to the quiet. On A Mission is a big album full of big ideas and, despite occasional lapses into overproduction, confirms that Darius continues to cultivate his craft while stepping up his game.
Track Listing: Settin' It Off; Soulful Stride; Let's Go!; Uptown Swagger; Jean Marie's Groove; Kingston Flavor; Butterfly; Move To It; Nu Train of Thought; My Prayer for Haiti.
Personnel: Eric Darius: alto saxophone (1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10), tenor saxophone (2, 5, 7, 9); Rick Braun: trumpet (7); James Lloyd: keyboards, programming (4); Ron Reinhardt: Rhodes (2); Micah Otano: guitar (1, 2, 3, 8), keyboards (2, 3, 8), organ (1, 3), drum programming (1, 2, 3, 8); Michael Barkulis: keyboards (1, 3), strings (3), programming (1, 2, 3, 8); Alex Al: bass (1, 2, 3); Luke James: vocal (1); Ku: rapper (1); Britney Bereal: background vocals (1); Jeremy Williams (1, 3); Chris Andrew: piano (7, 9, 10), Rhodes (7, 9), keyboards (7, 9, 10), drum programming (9); Xavier Chisholm: bass (7, 10); Jay Puente: percussion (1, 2, 7, 10); Third Richardson: drums (7, 10); Nate Najar: guitar (1, 7, 9, 10); Rohan Reid: bass, keyboards, guitar, drum programming (6); Michael Ripoli: guitar (5); Rex Rideout: keyboards, programming (5); Steady Joseph: percussion (6); Dean Frazier: saxophone (6); Ranald Nambo Robinson: trombone (6); Vivian Scott: trumpet (6).