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Josh Lawrence: Triptych

David A. Orthmann By

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Triptych succeeds on the connection between Josh Lawrence's writing and a coterie of players with whom he has been associated for several years. A brilliant, enterprising band comprised of the leader's trumpet, pianist Zaccai Curtis, his brother, bassist Luques Curtis, alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis (no relation), and drummer Anwar Marshall readily embrace the contours of Lawence's compositions and inhabit the roles required by the music, while simultaneously bringing their own idiosyncrasies to the table. In an age when artists often err on the side of caution in an attempt to make a perfect record, or adopt an every man for himself approach to performance, small groups usually don't sound this spirited, tight and simpatico.

The record is comprised of a triumvirate of three movement suites, plus a cover of the Earth, Wind & Fire hit, "That's The Way Of The World." Lawrence's original material draws inspiration from a variety of sources. "Lost Works" is a eulogy for the first three paintings of Vasily Kandinsky's "Composition" series. They were deemed "degenerate art" by the German Nazi Party and destroyed during World War Two. Dedicated to Lawrence's wife, artist Ola Baldych, "Happiest Together" is a portrait of their life together. "Earth Wind Fire" draws from some of the trumpeter's musical influences: Ahmad Jamal, Miles Davis's early electric music, and the Terence Blanchard/Donald Harrison 1980s quintet.

Apart from inspirations and influences, one way of looking at the record is to measure the tracks that contain Lawrence's trumpet and the rhythm section against those which include Curtis's alto. "We're Happiest Together," "Sugar Hill Stroll," "Wind," and "Sunset In Santa Barbara" feature the genial, uncluttered, relatively relaxed facets of Lawrence's writing and playing. "We're Happiest Together" in particular is a joyous, optimistic, middling tempo waltz that nicely balances his composition and the band's performance. Zaccai Curtis's frisky accompaniment enhances Lawrence's charming take on the melody. Offering just the right degree of weight and thrust, Lawrence's solo continuously unfolds without sounding like he's in a hurry to go anywhere. From start to finish it's a track that might please those who don't normally care for jazz.

One of three selections with roots in hard bop, the execution of the head of the busy, insistent "Fire" lies somewhere between pinpoint precision and an amorphous mass. Zaccai Curtis's thunderous piano stands out in a field crammed with urgent information. Luques Curtis's bass ably holds the band together, and the soloists— Lawrence, Caleb Curtis and Zaccai Curtis—stay on point despite a punishing tempo. "Composition #2" overlaps written and improvised segments, sustaining a somber mood while subtly altering textures. Caleb Curtis's improvisation feels like a story in itself. Deliberate, thoughtful tones eventually become trashier, longer and freer, as if he's attempting to break out of something too confining.

Lawrence's well-crafted, emotionally resonant compositions, an ensemble of individuals who support one another, and a raft of soloists capable of speaking for themselves, conspire to make Triptych worthwhile listening.

Track Listing: We're Happiest Together; Composition #1; Composition #2; Composition #3; Sugar Hill Stroll; Earth; Wind; Fire; Sunset In Santa Barbara; That's The Way Of The World.

Personnel: Josh Lawrence: trumpet; Caleb Curtis: alto sax (2, 3, 4, 6 & 8); Zaccai Curtis: piano; Luques Curtis: bass; Anwar Marshall: drums; Brian Charette: organ (10)

Title: Triptych | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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