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Josh Lawrence & Color Theory: Contrast

David A. Orthmann By

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Josh Lawrence & Color Theory's Contrast features a host of varied, sturdy and invigorating compositions by the leader, an ensemble that plays them with élan, a number of arresting soloists, and a rhythm section that rapidly moves between sly and rambunctious. While all of these factors are important, they don't adequately capture the record's essence. Perhaps another way of looking at Contrast is that a number of somewhat familiar elements exist side-by-side with an abundance of bold, startling moments that don't necessarily yield simple descriptions or glib stylistic references.

In the realm of the familiar, the head of the affable, hard bopish "Around The Circle" is executed with an admirable snap, crackle and pop precision by all hands, and merits close attention to savor all of the nuances. "Accompanied Contrast," Lawrence's heart on his sleeve, traditional sounding ballad, works like a charm because of a fine arrangement for his trumpet, the alto saxophone of Caleb Curtis, and David Gibson's trombone, as well as the discerning accompaniment of pianist Zaccai Curtis, the bass of Laques Curtis (Zaccai's brother), and the drums and cymbals of Anwar Marshall. The leader's dazzling post-bop composition "Gray" links Curtis's strummed then plucked bass, Marshall's drums and a relatively brief, wicked line stated by the horns.

The record's genuinely adventuresome spirit emerges on several tracks as the band consistently digs deep and isn't afraid to get a little messy. The dense, mournful "Agent Orange," for example, feels like a long, restive, demanding dream. While the rhythm section insistently moves the music forward without delineating a strict tempo, the track toggles between concise themes and short solos by Gibson, Caleb Curtis, and Lawrence. The leader's turn offers a brief respite before Marshall's snare drum patterns, barely audible yet making a genuine impact, initiate the gradual restoration of calculated unrest.

The deliberate, languid funk of "Blues On The Bridge" is an exploit of another kind. Zaccai Curtis' sparse Rhodes inflections add a suitably indistinct electric undercurrent. By turns robust, skeletal, jarring, vague, not to mention serious and tongue in cheek, the track consistently changes shape but never abandons its core. To the band's credit, none of the performances conform to a rigid, conventional funk-centric agenda as the music stretches, meanders, and effortlessly reverts to a recognizable form. Orrin Evans' acoustic piano ensemble passages and solo evince a cunning, playful simplicity. He favors repetition, lands notes firmly on and then off of the beat, and positions elementary phases in unconventional ways. Marshall is, in the main, a model of precise, no nonsense funk propulsion; at times, however, while keeping a steady hand on the tiller he deftly flings brief, imaginative, acrobatic fills into unexpected places.

For anyone interested in enjoying the fruits of a record that successfully joins a fair degree of calculation and a boisterous temperament, Contrast is highly recommended.

Track Listing: Circles On Black; Round The Circle; Dominant Curve; Accompanied Contrast; In The Black Square; Gray; Brown; Agent Orange; Blues On The Bridge; Sometimes It Snows In April.

Personnel: Josh Lawrence: trumpet; Caleb Curtis: alto saxophone; David Gibson: trombone; Zaccai Curtis: piano; Orrin Evan: piano (track 9, 10); Luques Curtis: bass; Anwar Marshall: drums.

Title: Contrast | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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