Saxophonist Kirsten Edkins delivers a delightful and charming batch of mainstream jazz with her engaging and exuberant debut Art & Soul. The tracks alternate between soulful, smoky burners and cooler, airier ones with relaxed tempos and intricate arrangements.
Keyboardist Larry Goldings' earthy, simmering Hammond B3 often drives the former type. For instance, "Mean Greens" opens with drummer Mark Ferber's throbbing beats and loose rumble. Goldings' eloquent phrases brim with soul and earthy, simmering vamps and are quite exciting and far from formulaic. Edkins takes center stage with an agile and emotive tenor that passionately swaggers and, although doesn't venture far from the main theme, embellishes it with virtuosity and wit. Trombonist Ryan Dragon growls expressively as he weaves thick yet limber lines around the infectious melody.
The funky "Big B" harks back to the golden days of organ/tenor bands of a half a century ago. Goldings' greasy, resonant chords and inventive spontaneity underscore Edkins' breezy and muscular tenor. An exciting give and take between Edkins and guitarist Larry Koonse further enhances this rootsy, low down groove.
In contrast, the intricately crafted Edkins original "The Bug" creates an intriguing ambience with the undulating refrains of Edkins' soprano and reedman Bob Sheppard's bass clarinet. Sheppard's acerbic and heady tone brings an organic feel to the piece while Edkins' serpentine, bittersweet lines highlight its inner tenderness. Goldings adds on a cerebral edge with his angular and crisp solo.
Sheppard's hypnotic bass clarinet adds a dark hue to the melodic "Good Blood." Orchestral elements give it an expansive, impressionistic atmosphere as Sheppard trades bars with the other horns. Over this ensemble flourishes Edkins' alto sax wails fervently. Trumpeter Mike Cottone and his burnished tone accent the tune with an incandescent blush while bassist Mike Valerio imbues his own conversational improvisation with deep lyricism.
This engaging and enjoyable album may not break any new ground but it introduces a charismatic and skillful new voice in jazz. Despite the lack of anything terribly innovative the disc manages to captivate and enamor primarily because of Edkins' high-level musicianship as well as the superb camaraderie she has with her sidemen. It is, hopefully, only the first step in a brilliant career path.
Big B; Good Blood; Mean Greens; Soul Eyes; Imagineering; The Bug; Stomping Ground;
Art & Soul; No Ordinary Joe.
Kirsten Edkins: tenor, soprano, alto saxophones; Bob Sheppard: tenor saxophone and
bass clarinet; Mike Cattone: trumpet; Ryan Dragon: trombone; Larry Goldings: piano,
Hammond B3 organ; Larry Koonse: guitar; Mike Valerio: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.
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