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Wallace Roney: Jazz

John Kelman By

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In a time when the definition of the word jazz is in heated debate, it takes a certain amount of courage for trumpeter Wallace Roney to use it as the title of his third release for HighNote. Roney continues to mine the place where contemporary rhythms and technology meet the language of jazz, and while there are those who will balk at his use of turntablists, synthesizers and hip hop rhythms, one listen is all it takes. It may be increasingly difficult to empirically define jazz, but one knows it when one hears it, and Jazz is most definitely a jazz album.

With the same core group that's been with him since Prototype (HighNote, 2004)—saxophonist/clarinetist/brother Antoine Roney, pianist/keyboardist/wife Geri Allen and drummer Eric Allen—there are a couple of new faces, most notably keyboardist Robert Irving III, who replaces Adam Holzman. Both Irving and Holzman were key players in Miles Davis' 1980s bands and, given that Roney's starting point has, since Village (Warner Bros., 1997), been the late trumpeter's earliest forays into electric music—and he was a protégé of the late icon in his final years—working with Miles alumni has always felt completely right.

Roney is no mere Miles clone, however, and only those listening to him with the most cursory of ears could suggest otherwise. Roney possesses a similarly rich tone, an ear for playing exactly what's required—no more, no less—and an ability to morph pop music like Sly and the Family Stone's "Stand" into an extended and open-ended modal workout. But while the persistent, In a Silent Way-like groove that defines its core is referential, the hard-hitting and virtuosic trumpet/drums duo that opens "Stand" is not. Miles' technical skill often ebbed and flowed with his health, but Roney suffers no such inconsistencies. He's never sounded better, moving from strength to strength.

Roney's time spent from the mid-1980s to the early-1990s with another Miles alumnus, the late drummer Tony Williams, informs bassist Rashaan Carter's "Inflorescent," a relaxed, largely acoustic track that features Geri Allen's best piano solo of the set. Antoine Roney's "Nia" is another lyrical piece, with subtle turntable work by another regular collaborator, Val Jeanty, and stunning less-is-more (but all the more powerful for it) solos from both Roney brothers.

It's the more energetic tracks, however, that are the most revealing indicators of just how far along the trumpeter has come at taking his stylistic starting point and making it his own. His "Vater Time," which begins with a hip hop beat and turntable work by DJ Axum but turns decidedly swinging for Antoine Roney's tenor solo, proves that there is a nexus where the traditional and the modern can coexist.

It's a theme that's run through Roney's albums for a decade now, but it's never been so clear, so wonderfully conceived and so flawlessly executed. For those who think jazz has to live in a time warp, Jazz just might sway that opinion.


Track Listing: Vater Time; Children of the Light; Inflorescent; Fela

Personnel: Wallace Roney: trumpet; Antoine Roney: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Geri Allen: piano, keyboards (2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9); Robert Irving III: keyboards, Fender Rhodes (1, 4, 6, 8); Rashaan Carter: bass; Eric Allen: drums; DJ Axum: turntables (1, 4); Val Jeanty: turntables (5, 6, 8).

Title: Jazz | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: HighNote Records

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