Daily jazz blog, Marlbank

Julius Rodriguez, Evergreen, Verve ***1/2

Los Angeles based pianist Julius Rodriguez here with originals and a cover of Dijon's 'Many Times' joined by guests such as Keyon Harrold, Nate Mercereau and avantist Georgia Anne Muldrow whose appealingly moody vocal features on 'Champion's Call' …

Published: 13 Jun 2024. Updated: 35 days.

Los Angeles based pianist Julius Rodriguez here with originals and a cover of Dijon's 'Many Times' joined by guests such as Keyon Harrold, Nate Mercereau and avantist Georgia Anne Muldrow whose appealingly moody vocal features on 'Champion's Call' streaming along with 'Mission Statement' ahead of the album's full release tomorrow. Crossover sounding - meaning it's far from purist jazz but certainly has lots of strong content particularly built from the ground up via bass lines from Philip Norris - the now 25-year-old New Yorker's Let Sound Tell All stood out in 2022 as this latest in its even more accessible way also does among the large array and spread of quality jazz about at the moment. What we mean by accessible is that Evergreen - nothing to do with the Paul Williams/Barbra Streisand song of the same name covered winningly by Alma Micic recently or indeed the Jun Iida original either by the way - has plenty of radio friendly R&B stylings to it. And there's plenty of groove. There is a school of thought that claims that current jazz either runs on a groove/riff alchemy or it operates instead on freer structures. Certainly if you subscribe to that view then Evergreen is the former. Silky licks say on 'Around the World' sit up and practically grin at you. Trumpeter Alonzo Demetrius is great on this track and you get a persuasive sense of flow the more up tempo the band sound ventures forth.

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Julius Rodriguez, photo: Atiba Jefferson

Playing jazz since he was a pre-teen encouraged by his Monk loving dad, this latest album of the artist sometimes known as Orange Julius was produced by Tim Anderson. Rodriguez dropped out of Julliard to tour with rapper A$AP Rocky and the African-American of Haitian descent's undoctrinaire approach to genre revels in its hookily sunny dimension, a feeling shared stylistically a bit with Jon Batiste. Evergreen doesn't grab us as much as Let Sound Tell All did because the material on that earlier work had more impact. But put it this way if suddenly you saw the name Julius Rodriguez on a poster online somewhere advertising a gig down the street at some local spot you'd be there like a shot to run along to hear this new generation keys kingpin in the making show what he can do on the stand straight away. Final word - fine saxist Nicole McCabe figures winningly on a couple of tracks including Rodriguez tune 'Mission Statement'. McCabe's Mosaic we got a kick out of and chilled to recently. Synth wiz Nate Mercereau also makes his presence felt on the same track.

Tags: Reviews

US jazz album of the week: Deron Johnson, Free to Dance, Colorfield Records **** Recommended

Deron Johnson who was with Miles Davis on late period Miles hip-hop and jazz fusion adventure Doo Bop and the pianist on Lady Blackbird 2021 smash hit 5-star Black Acid Soul, a big fave with us down marlbank way still, returns magnificently here …

Published: 12 Jun 2024. Updated: 18 days.

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Deron Johnson who was with Miles Davis on late period Miles hip-hop and jazz fusion adventure Doo Bop and the pianist on Lady Blackbird 2021 smash hit 5-star Black Acid Soul, a big fave with us down marlbank way still, returns magnificently here on a laidback vamp heavy masterclass that sounds like nothing else around at the moment in a hugely appealing number of ways.

Here goes: Listen hard to the very stirring 'Call Me Back': not only but because this track already shrewdly streaming as a single ahead of the album's full release, has the speaking voice of Miles no less drawn from a scratchy old answerphone message sent to Deron. The ''call me back'' message somehow but beautifully weaves into modal meditations from the American who was taught by the great US jazz icon Billy Childs back in the day and has absorbed so much of that remarkable lifeforce.

The gloriously pristine trumpet part on the track with Johnson and Mehliana Phronesis Alive drummer legend Mark Guiliana at the kit is Joey Curreri, a new generation US wiz whom we heard as an unknown when he was over in London playing a tiny upstairs room of a Kentish Town pub called the Oxford in 2021.

But there's a helluva lot more than just one track on the album that grabs us by the lapels.

Co-producer and co-arranger Pete Min who runs Color Field and did a great job on Anthony Wilson's interesting and enjoyable Collodion last year has done a fine job working with Deron in Min's own LA studio. What emerges sounds so different and certainly isn't overproduced at all even when there are lots of moving parts and overdubs weaved in. Paul Simon and Jesse Harris Cosmo collaborator trumpeter/flugel player CJ ''Carm'' Carmieri also pops up piquantly on the album on the mesmerising 'Santur', one of the top tracks for us. Deron makes use of the hammered dulcimer of Iranian origins the santur and gamelan strips plus much else here.

In the sonics turning to that side of things there is a layered confection and firm footprint in the series of soft, velvety textures that bring out the lustre and artisan qualities of the instruments whether new fangled gizmo keys and drum machines or beloved old skool paraphernalia as rugged and resilient as the dustiest of hills kicking about the Min studio gaff. The approach at the console and in the judicous use of mastering levels allow the extended passages particularly to breathe given such engendered flow and floaty command in the open ended arcs.

Tenor titan of our times sax star Mark Turner who was on the 5-Star ECM classic Return From the Stars issued two years ago is glorious on the title track along with bassist Alan Hampton known for his work with old H-Town buddie Robert Glasper whom we caught together slaying Charlie Wright's at an intimate show in Hoxton in 2008. Hampton shares a co-write credit with Johnson and sings evocatively on the yearning dreamsville of 'I Don’t Have to Wait for a Clear Day'. Drummer Jonathan Pinson is fabulously loose on the floaty and immersive 'Apocryphal.'

Other names to feature on Free to Dance include sax maverick Sam Gendel playing alto on 'Mimo Omi' who has built up a following from new-to-jazz heads mainly in their twenties Stateside - we'd recommend Superstore if unfamiliar with the Californian.

Electronica in the blend? Yes, there are elements but to us it's not an album that you can pigeonhole in any one way or at all. To call it jazztronica would be wrong. But it sounds as progressive as it is long form and melodic without sounding twee or gliby intent on avoiding the overly chromatic because that course might be feared too out there by the anti-avant brigade and thus stepped away from. Johnson has a magpie knack at steering away from cliché and folding in a range of borrowings from all sorts of areas that somehow blend well together.

Min's approach overall is curatorial as well as masterfully technical in a studio-as-composition sense. Among the guests check out jazz vocals star Gretchen Parlato wonderful on Lean In with Lionel Loueke last year on the heavily synthesised and very cool 'Can a Song Save Your Life.'

Johnson is someone you need to know about as a priority more and more even at this stage in his career and since Black Acid Soul we are all ears. A player who has nothing to prove and crucially everything to give artistically. Such a futuristically well bolted together 21st century electrofusion artefact finds him shining on and reaching new uncharted heights that carve out a new listening space for him in a very crowded jazz landscape.

Deron Johnson, photos: Charlie Weinmann. Free To Dance is released on 28 June