On Kemet (The Black Land), trombonist/composer Javier Nero pays homage to a highly advanced African civilization that flourished before the Egyptian kingdom was established and thousands of years before the Greek and Roman empires that are hailed today as the pillars of modern/western culture. Even though Kemet is all but forgotten in 2023, Nero (whose name in Italian literally means "black") says that scholars from surrounding societies including the Greeks were once sent there to study the arts, sciences, literature, government and philosophy. To Nero, Kemet "represents the beauty humanity is capable of through the free and uninhibited exchange of ideas and information"sentiments he endeavors to express musically through nine of his multicolored compositions.
"Kemet," a vibrant salute to the once-trailblazing land, is the album's centerpiece, showcasing superb work by the ensemble, a wordless vocal by Nero and Christie Dashiell , an admirable trombone solo by Nero, and others to match by pianist Josh Richman and guest trumpeter Sean Jones. Nero plumbs the roots of jazz for the bracing opener, "The Blues Reincarnated" (news of whose demise escaped notice here) before focusing on "Time," making sure that each moment passes as pleasantly as possible thanks to a captivating arrangement and persuasive solos by Jones, soprano saxophonist Daniel Andrews and drummer Kyle Swan.
The enticing "Reflections on the Dark, Tranquil Water" (nice piano intro by Richman) includes the first of the session's five vocals, this one wordless, a samba-like midsection and inspired solos by Richman and Nero, while "Discord," which follows, is a melodious charmer that drops anchor about as far from disharmony as one could imagine. Dashiell sings on this one while Jones, Nero and Richman solo. "Nostalgic Haiku" is yet another even-tempered winner, using a quasi-Latin beat to underscore perceptive solos by Nero and guests Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Warren Wolf (vibraphone).
Nero, an award-winning trombone soloist, does the honors on the handsome ballad "Just Let Go," which precedes "Kemet" and another vocal, by Nero and Dashiell, on the gospel-tinged "One Day" whose astute solos are by flutist Ben Bokor and an unnamed trumpeter. Although soloists aren't listed, many are readily identifiable, as they are the orchestra's guest artists, while Nero (presumably) takes every trombone solo. The energetic finale, "Jam #3 (in C# Major"), is the longest track on the album, clocking in at more than twelve minutes, but none of that time is wasted, thanks to Nero's splendid chart and sharp solos by the leader and guests Jones and Tim Green (alto sax). While Nero's composing voice is strong, it is clear that he has listened to and learned from a number of well-known writersthe names Charles Mingus, Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider spring to mindand has used that knowledge to good advantage on Kemet.
When not writing, Nero spends most days in the trombone section of the Army Blues, the premer jazz ensemble of the U.S. Army, so it is hardly surprising to see that almost every member of his splendid Jazz Orchestra is also a member of the Army Blues. That is all that need be said about quality control. Given a band of that caliber, and Nero's superlative compositions and arrangements, there is simply no way that Kemet could be less than persuasive.
The Blues Reincarnated; Time; Reflections on the Dark, Tranquil Water; Discord; Nostalgic
Haiku; Just Let Go; Kemet (The Black Land); One Day; Jam #3 (in C# Major).
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