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Josh Lawrence & Color Theory: Contrast

Paul Rauch By

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Trumpeter Josh Lawrence has had a long and diverse trek to where he is now. Beginning in his native New Jersey, he has embraced jazz culture in Philadelphia, Europe, and finally New York City, where he has gained a solid reputation as a musician, bandleader, and composer.

On his second release for the Posi-Tone label, Lawrence explores several different avenues of musical expressionism with his "Color Theory" project. The new record, entitled Contrast, digs into the counterpoint of joy and pain, inspired by the works of painter/art theorist Vasily Kandinsky. Kandinsky outlined the theory of the definitive sound of colors, noting for example, the bright yellow conceptualization of treble, which could never be mistaken for the dark colors and depth of bass tones.

Contrast is composed of a pair of five movement suites, much like two sides of an LP. The first suite takes its titles from the Kandinsky collection of paintings in the Guggenheim collection, the second being referred to as the "American side." The abstract musical perception is as a prism to create music out of color.

For this session, Lawrence surrounds himself with musicians that personify his personal growth as an artist, including a major influence from his Philly days, pianist Orrin Evans.

Both in terms of foundational support and creative improvisational impulse, bassist Luques Curtis, and his brother, pianist Zaccai Curtis, contribute mightily to these selections of musical collectivism. If you don't know who the Curtis brothers are, you may not be paying close enough attention to the world of modern jazz present. As well, you may be denying yourself an open door to the future of the art form. As exemplified on their electrifying release Completion of Proof (Truth Revolution, 2012), the music of the Curtis Brothers embodies a broad swath of what is happening in jazz today. From post bop adventurism, to the realm of modern Latin jazz, the Hartford born and bred tandem have left a prominent imprint on an international scale.

Multi-dimensional drummer Anwar Marshall brings an ardent physicality to the music, that pushes and drives the band in multiple directions seemingly at will throughout the session.

Saxophonist Caleb Wheeler Curtis provides the perfect counterpoint in terms of melodic improvisation to the dynamic playing of Lawrence. The sounds and colors of master trombonist David Gibson encapsulate both the legacies of swing and hard bop, while weighted heavily in the direction of post bop modernism, as clearly delineated on his most recent release, Inner Agent (Posi-Tone, 2016).

The broad canvas of colors on which Lawrence moves this stellar gathering of musicians is perhaps best exemplified on the Lawrence composition "Dominant Curve." The head, in and out, is pure bebop, progressing onward through variances in linear time pushed by bassist Curtis, and Marshall. Pianist Curtis provides the base harmonic pigment for the wash of sound projected by a stunning alto solo from saxophonist Curtis.

While many of the finer points of musical adventurism are provided on more up-tempo pieces such as the opener "Circles on Black," or the explosive "Agent Orange," Lawrence is in his true element of modern expressionism on the ballad "Accompanied Contrast." His sense of prose like lyricism, and romantic tonal imagery, clearly demonstrates not only his mastery of the instrument, but the aspect of his personal humanity that easily expresses love, humility, and empathy.

Evans enters the fray on the dynamic "Blues on the Bridge, " a piece inspired by peaceful resistance and activism. "The resistance to tyranny is another theme in America's story; a theme that inspires me to be better, and do better," states Lawrence. On Contrast, Lawrence accomplishes just that, both in artistic terms, and by way of expressing the mood of the fight for justice and humanity so prevalent in these times in America.

Evans and Lawrence end the session with the beautiful Prince ballad of love and remembrance, "Sometimes It Snows in April." Dedicated to his recently passed brother in law Grisha, Lawrence plays from a very deep, emotional place. The result is a loving, heavenly tribute to a precious soul that left the world far too soon.

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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