Jazz has no shortage of albums dealing with the past-present-future continuumquite the opposite, in factbut few carry as personal a tone as trombonist Elliot Mason's debut leader date. While speaking to broad concepts in dealing with the music's history and the notion of time taking form as one giant through line, Mason also inserts family ties into the Before, Now & After
framework. Vocalist Sofija KneževićMason's wife, who was expecting their first child when the album was recorded and gave birth to that baby boy shortly before its releasetakes her rightful place in the front line here, adding literal and figurative resonance to these songs. Her meditations on loveoriginals like "Vulnerable" and "Let Me Ask You Something"address something beyond music while still relating directly to the project at hand.
Mason, best known as one of the low brass titans in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, fills out the rest of this quintet with the rhythm section from that high profile big bandpianist Dan Nimmer
, bassist Carlos Henriquez
, and drummer Ali Jackson
. Together, all five musicians make for a fluid and fascinating unit. Working with a mixture of originals and tweaked classics connected to themes of influence, engagement, and extension through personal growth, the quintet truly finds itself in its element. The title track, an evolutionary tale opening on intrigue, settling into a focused storytelling zone with Mason and Knežević blending to perfection, winding through lines in seven, and taking a swinging detour, mirrors its message about continuing creation; a sleekly-contoured "Caravan," vacillating between an alluring sway in seven and a swinging section in four, still speaks clearly to its most familiar of melody lines; and a hot-blooded "Passion Dance," driven forward by Henriquez's locomotive lines and a sense of yearning, rings true to McCoy Tyner
's spirit and Mason's voice.
While the core of this operation is Mason and his individualistic bandmates, the guests that appear on more than half of these eight tracks add volumes to the outcome. Regarding the aforementioned pieces, Cyro Baptista
adds percussive coloring to "Before, Now & After," trumpeter Tim Hagans
works with a sound and sensibility similar to Mason's on "Caravan," and sibling solidarity rings forth when trumpeter Brad Mason
joins his brother for that purposeful "Passion Dance." All three of those artists make their mark in their respective appearances, but none of them make nearly as big an impact as saxophonist Joe Lovano
. On "& Then There Were >3," a trio track for two horns and drums that references Mason's growing family in name and through its heartbeat bookends, Lovano and Mason make for an exhilarating combination. And through "Resolution" they carry John Coltrane
's spirituality forward in their own own direct-cum-smoldering way.
Those who take this album's context into consideration before checking it out will likely have a richer overall experience than those who only go for a blind listen. The music, however, sells itself and needs no background information to aid it in that department. Mason's monster technique, coupled with his exquisite taste, carries the day, and his wife, JALC comrades, and heavy-hitter friends help him bring this powerful and touching vision to life. And life, after all, is what it's all about.
Before, Now & After; Caravan; Vulnerable; Passion Dance; And Then There Were <3; Resolution; In A Sentimental Mood; Let Me Ask You Something.
Elliot Mason: trombone, bass trumpet (3); Sofija Knežević: vocals; Dan Nimmer: piano; Carlos Henriquez: bass; Ali Jackson: drums; Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone (5, 6); Tim Hagans: trumpet (2); Brad Mason: trumpet: (4); Cyro Baptista: percussion (4).