Jaleel Shaw: Optimism (2008)
Shaw is not your cookie-cutter post bopperhe sounds like no one, really, but himselfand he writes tunes that show his compositional approach is also independent. The vocabulary of the tradition is familiar and yet this doesn't sound like a rehash of a hundred other albums. The use of the Fender Rhodes on several tracks suggests the popular vernacular but the music on those tracks tells us that 'popular' is not necessarily bad.
Particularly engaging, for example, is the waltz, "In 3." Here it's alto, guitar, bass and drums and the sound is quietly impressionistic with Lage Lund adding especially lovely colors on guitar. It's a song about texture and emotion and the restraint of the players is particularly engaging.
The title track is a pulsing, driving number that somehow also evokes intelligent contemplation. The impressive thing about Shaw's playing is that it never seems to knock a listener out with volume or power. So this tune pulls us along but not forcefully in any artificial way. And Glasper is especially sensitive on the electric keyboard as if fully understanding the feeling that the composer was seeking.
Shaw the bandleader is sensitive enough to choose a little recorded tune, "If I'm Lucky," that originally appeared on a Johnny Hartman album. It shows Shaw's gorgeous and intimate way with a ballad. Glasper chooses the Fender Rhodes again and the performance stays simple, quiet and lovely.
Optimism is a jazz album whose mood, even in up-tempos, suggests thoughtful understanding and a personal way to make a recording. And even when there are effects they work towards telling a story.
Track Listing: Flipside; Almost; In 3; Optimism; If I'm Lucky; Flight; Love for Sale; Muna's Sleeping; Muna's Dream; The Struggle; Optilude.
Personnel: Jaleel Shaw: alto saxophone; Lage Lund: guitar; Robert Glasper: keyboards; Joe Martin: bass; Johnnathan Blake: drums; Jeremy Pelt: trumpet.
Record Label: Changu Records