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Sean Jones: Gemini

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The young Sean Jones has the kind of iron-lipped chops other trumpeters can only dream of. On Gemini, the followup to his 2004 debut, Eternal Journey, he's surrounded by some of the first-rate players from his previous album, like pianist Mulgrew Miller, keyboardist Orrin Evans, and altoist/flautist Tia Fuller. The playing throughout is very much up to Jones' level—which is to say it's technically superlative.

Gemini sees Jones taking a step away from the hard bop of Eternal Journey. It's divided between the hard bop of its first half and a glossier, thumping groove-funk on its second—different players being utilized to enhance the qualities of either style (jazzier drummer E.J. Strickland and pianist Miller on the first half versus deep-pocket skinsman Corey Rawls and electric keyboardist Evans on the second). The musicians have no trouble with either style.

Yet there is something profoundly unengaging about this recording. The generic blandness of the songs don't help; Jones contributes the lion's share of the tunes, with one from Fuller, a vignette from Evans, and Texas tenor man Quamon Fuller's "Mission Statement filling out the disc. But for the most part, the songs are blowing vehicles that fade from the listener's memory moments after they end.

Hard bop classics like "Moanin or "Lester Left Town —just to name two associated with the Jazz Messengers—are utterly propulsive and feature stunning soloing. But they're also extremely memorable; they're not so much easy to remember as impossible to forget. "In Her Honor (Jones' tribute to his musical cohort Fuller), by comparison, is just a set of changes—from the sound of the performances, fun to play, but changes nonetheless. Fuller's own "Reign of Patience is probably the best of the acoustic tunes here, a sweet bossa nova ballad with lovely cymbal work from Strickland and winsome, if not terribly deeply felt flute from the composer.

And that's another problem here: feeling. Jones is a stunning, mighty trumpet player, with flawless, crisp articulation and power in any octave. But one questions just how much he has to say; he never wants for notes, but depth of emotion is often sorely lacking. (His solo on the stuttering, funky "Into the Sun —one of the electric groove numbers—will still make you sit up and take notice, though.) The other musicians largely seem to match Jones' emotional shallowness, the overall result an impeccably professional blandness and enervation. The exception is pianist Miller, who's wonderful—his comping alone adds an element of feeling that the other soloists' statements lack. His absence on the groove numbers is sorely felt.

A musician of Jones' abilities is uniquely empowered because he can really play anything he cares to. Sometimes the sheer joy of playing wonderfully with great musicians can hamstring the art of creation—the ability to go further, embrace risk, and make something new. This gifted young musician can go anywhere he pleases. But some roads are easier, and ultimately less rewarding, than others.

Track Listing: Gemini (Phase 1); In Her Honor; Reign of Patience; Blues for Matt B; BJ's Tune (Life in the Hand, Divine); Mission Statement; Gemini (Phase 2); Into the Sun; Chillin' at the Grill; T.V. Land; Momma's Groove; Gemini; Gemini (Phase 3).

Personnel: Sean Jones: trumpet; Mulgrew Miller: piano (1-6); Kenny Davis: acoustic and electric bass; Tia Fuller: alto sax, flute; Orrin Evans: keyboards (7-13); Ron Blake: tenor saxophone (9-10); Walter Smith III: tenor saxophone (4,6); Andre Heyward: trombone (10); E.J. Strickland: drums (1-6); Corey Rawls: (7-13).

Title: Gemini | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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