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Cameron Graves: Planetary Prince

Christopher Hoard By

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Cameron Graves' debut recording, Planetary Prince (Mack Avenue) is an original and refreshing "piano jazz" outing. It's horn sextet dynamics provide familiar entry points and references into the musical sphere Graves inhabits as composer, arranger, and performer, but the extreme energy levels and sophisticated ensemble dynamics confidently echo the great bands of the jazz-rock era; perhaps it's no coincidence Graves has been touring with Stanley Clarke's band for the past two years, and has also been an integral presence touring, recording, and performing with saxophonist Kamasi Washington.

The seven tracks which make up Planetary Prince are presented mostly in the format of extended instrumental suites: jazz mini-concertos with hints of neo-classical romanticism, infused with punchy, complex, and lush horn arrangements. Intricate melodic themes set up extended flights of fresh, inventive, and often herculean riffing, setting up a swiftly shifting foundation for a succession of inspired and soulful soloing. Graves' classical chops are often in evidence, but recall with a new perspective and youthful energy a prior generation of masters: names like Jarrett, Corea, and Hancock come to mind—and their fans find some astonishing pianistic pyrotechnics here, rendered within ambitious structures and crescendos, as well as a diverse sampling of hybrid grooves, drawing from rock, R&B, avant-garde, hip-hop, and Latin influences—and beyond.

Graves' choice of ensemble is classic a classic horn sextet with trumpet (Philip Dizack), trombone (Ryan Porter), and tenor saxophone (Kamasi Washington). The secret sauce that underpins a well-orchestrated storm of dynamics is the formidable rhythm section of drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. and one of two virtuoso electric bassists—Hadrien Feraud, and Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat. Feraud, originally from Paris and now living in LA continually offers up a tasteful, restrained virtuosity as a fusioneer bassist and appears on all but two tracks. Ferraud has performed locally with Kamasi Washington, The West Coast Get Down, after gaining recognition earlier in his career recording and touring with John McLaughlin and Chick Corea.

Both Thundercat and Feraud have an uncanny synergy with the intermittently explosive drumming and an endless variations of pocket grooves served up by Ronald Bruner, Jr. The rhythm section throughout shifts effortlessly between atmospheric cruising and maxed-out warp drive, laying a deep foundation for Graves' release of extended torrents of spectacular piano riffs. Whenever you think their ferocity is about teeter out of control, Feraud and Thundercat's creative, but anchoring bass lines and chordal colorings balance like a fine wine with Bruner's endless vocabulary of inventive grooves. Feraud's talents have evolved and matured immensely since his debut tour with John McLaughlin's Fourth Dimension in 2006, and later with Chick Corea; he was also a featured guest soloist appearing on several tracks on Thundercat's bass-heavy debut album, The Golden Age of Apocalypse (2011). One of the shorter pieces, "The End of Corporatism" is a relentlessly up-tempo rococo celebration of fast and devious chord changes. Thundercat's acrobatic solo runs soar, always on the precarious edge of his brother Ronald's nuclear bursts of tom rolls and tsunami swells of cymbals. To hear the two of them locked in under the cascading arpeggios of Graves piano is pure jazz spectacle recalling the '70s jazz rock supergroups.

The longer suites that make up Planetary Prince each unfold with an opening piano "prelude," forming strong themes in slower to breakneck tempos, and alluring emotional canvases. "Andromeda," coalesces and delves into an extended, lush romantic ballad, evoking the grandeur of the milky way on a clear desert night, launching Graves' solo runs into myriad inter-stellar explorations. Throughout these pieces the horn arrangements frame the solo sections—sometimes majestic and mellow, and other times boisterous, punchy, and flamboyant. All six musicians can strip down Graves' conception and ideas its core, and expand a theme and its rhythmic underpinnings with virtuosic expression and emotional intensity over a long progression of chords. "Adam and Eve," encompasses a primal musical journey with a beautiful piano intro, reminiscent of Chopin, which shifts into a joyous barrage of horn motifs, and like all the pieces, sets the stage for Graves' mercurial piano runs. The melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic conversations and interactions found on Planetary Prince are dramatic, soaring, and captivating. As the tension builds I'm imagining what it might have been like to hear John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner blow over Keith Moon and John Entwistle.

Graves' debut release embodies a forward looking, jazz-grounded instrumental music. Graves leads us on a challenging and intoxicating musical journey of imagination, built solidly on the foundation of superb musicianship and craft. Given the range of experience each musician brings to the project, Graves commands a stellar vehicle with the power and imagination to transport listeners young and old to planetary vistas of beauty, struggle, and triumph.

Track Listing: Satania Our Solar System; Planetary Prince; El Diablo; Adam & Eve; The End of Corporatism; Andromeda; Isle of Love; The Lucifer Rebellion.

Personnel: Camon Graves: piano; Ronald Bruner, Jr.: drums; Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner: bass; Philip Dizack: trumpet; Hadrien Feraud: bass; Ryan Porter: trombone; Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophone.

Title: Planetary Prince | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records


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