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Trombonist John Yao's debut as a leader In the Now successfully fuses contemporary flavors and more traditional jazz idioms to produce a solid, hip collection of tunes bounding with vitality and fun.
A protégé of Luis Bonilla, Yao reflects that trombonist's thoughtful compositional style, crafting an album of intelligently constructed pieces that give his powerful quintet plenty of room to display its skills. While the majority of tunes strike an astute balance between traditional structures and modern styles, occasionally Yao falls into predictable patterns that leave a few of the tunes sounding flat. However, these moments are rare and more than made up for by the spirited playing found throughout. The band exhibits an unusually tight integration, a testament to Yao's leadership as well as the quality of the individual performers. The group also possesses a forceful sound, giving the impression, at times, that a much bigger ensemble is at work as the band members deftly trade solos, combine and contrast lines, and shift tempos and rhythms.
Highlights include the groove-driven "Funky Sunday," which erupts from the outset and never lets up as Yao and saxophonist Jon Irabagon provide hard-hitting solos that pit their individual voices against each other expertly. "In the Now" stands out as well for its varied tempos, impressionistic departures, surprising turns, and a fantastic drum solo by William Clarke. Noteworthy as much for the animated delivery as the quality of the composition, the album's closing "Snafu" gives all the players free rein to let loose. Here, Irabagon again showcases his flexibility by delivering a cacophony of squalls that paint an aural picture of collision befitting the tune's title.
Spirited and well-executed In the Now bristles with energy and benefits from a straightforward desire to deliver good, enjoyable music. Neither simplistic nor intensely avant-garde, it's the kind of music that keeps a party going and leaves a smile on the face.
Track Listing: Divisions; Funky Sunday; For NDJ; In the Now; Not Even Close; Pink Eye; Shorter Days; Snafu.
Personnel: John Yao: trombone; Jon Irabagon: alto and soprano saxophones; Randy Ingram: piano, Fender
Rhodes, Hammond B-3 Organ; Leon Boykins: bass; Will Clark: drums.