California-based tubaist William Roper is among an elite few of virtuosi who are capable of extending their instruments range and capabilities to previously unvisited terrain. The artist is also known for his involvement with legendary new music/modern jazz icons Anthony Braxton and James Newton amid stints with other notables who generally alter or extend the tried and true into novel frameworks for improvisation/composition. With Juneteenth, his inaugural date as a leader, Roper injects his stunning technique into a series of pieces comprising elements of wit, whimsy and pathos.
Juneteenth denotes the date when the slaves of Eastern Texas were freed, yet as Roper cites in the liners: “Of the moment. Really, this is what the album is about: finding and expressing freedom(s) within the context of structures. Even in slavery people do this.” Thus, on pieces such as “The Perfect Construction of Decisive Moments", Roper and percussionist Joseph Mitchell render jazzy explorations via disparate harmonic statements, counterpoint and buoyantly executed melodies. On “Kagami Jishi,” Roper, the late pianist/modernist Glenn Horiuchi (playing shamisen here), Lillian Nakono (Horiuchi's aunt and shamisen expert), Francis Wong (flute), and Tom Kurai (taiko) meld far eastern modalities into quaintly exotic frameworks. By contrast, Roper injects pumping blues-based lines into motifs framed around barely detectable drum patterns, subliminal underlying currents, and simply stated beauty on “Lachrimae.” Recommended!