Mo' City Jungle is a bit like a mediocre blind date where the person in question makes a nice first impression but reveals an unpleasant identity crisis as the evening progresses.
Pianist Keith Javors' third album is a bit frustrating because his septet of players indicate early what they're capable of, but seldom live up to that potential. The result is an uneven album that can't decide if it wants to be modern or fusion-influenced jazz. Also, someone unfamiliar with the players might suspect Javors is merely a sideman, allowing his sax players to dominate many of the songs with inconsistent performances.
The opening title track may be the bestand ultimately feels a bit misleadingas it opens in no-nonsense fashion with a very brief throwaway chorus before progressing into a ten-minute stretch of solos featuring most of the cast. Tenor sax man Juan Carlos Rollan turns in a set of choppy and mostly simple vamps that flirt briefly into discordant territory before trumpet player Ray Callender turns in a bit more of the same. But shortly after alto saxophonist Dane Bays enters the picture and one starts thinking everyone is going to play the same solo, he shows a bit of Kenny Garrett-like daring in the upper registers. Javors, a 33-year-old Florida-based jazz educator, also indicates there might be promise to come with a solo that starts slow and builds nicely, with both hands working in some reasonably complex and compatible ideas.
But things seldom get that democratic or interesting again. The second track, "Sierra Nicole's Bossa," initially seems to promise the album won't take refuge in formulas as it wanders at least halfway across the street into a sax-dominated Michael Brecker/Eric Marianthal-type of ballad fusion (the tone of both Bays and Rollan bears more than a shade of resemblence to them). Unfortunately, what turns out to be an unremarkable song is more representative of what's on the remaining songs than a change of pace.
There's a scattering of life on a few tracks, including some legit hard blowing by Callender and Bays on "Conclusion of the Matter." But the main question remains why Javors makes such songs the exceptionsure he can play a competent ballad, as he does on "The High Road," but it's much more interesting to hear his lines interacting on the upbeat "In Essence." The other musicians, with one or two usually featured on the songs, similarly end up matching the level of composition instead of elevating it.
The rhythm contributions of Ricky Ravelo on bass and John Davis on drums are unremarkable, keeping things moving without ever really standing out in any noticeably good or bad way. And even on the best of tracks, there's not much from anyone that stands out as remarkable or worth repeated listenings.
Mo' City Jungle is not a bad album, but the overall feeling of tepidness is magnified knowing the players are capable of better. In the end the listener is likely to give it a polite handshake and write it off as another evening mired by overinflated expectations.
Mo' City Jungle, Sierra Nicole's Blues, Ian Keith, Symbiotic Interlude, In Essence, Afternoon In Roatan,
Conclusion Of The Matter, The High Road, Mo' City Jungle (reprise)
Keith Javors, piano; Ricky Ravelo, bass; John davis, drums; Dane Bays, alto saxophone; Juan Carlos
Rollan, tenor saxophone; Ray Callender, trumpet and flugelhorn