Monday, November 21, 2011

Jon Crowley

Jon Crowley (trumpet)

I really stumbled onto Jon Crowley through a search on the web for new music. I was looking for new trumpeters to check out in New York city and his name kept popping up. So I listened to a couple of tracks I found online, watched a couple of videos and was really captured by the quality and personality of his performances.

A young trumpeter who has already cut his chops up and down the Northeast and Mid-East corridor with gigs from Philly, NYC to Boston. There are a series of live recordings that document his growth on his site but you really should take a good listen to his most recent records that really give you a more in-depth picture.

Crowley's first effort, Connections (Lonely Crow Records; 2009) is a bright young artist with an articulate voice and vision showing that he is more than just a trumpet player but also a gifted composer. The blistering nature of the title track has shades of Freddie Hubbard with a growing inner beauty that could reflect later-period Chet Baker.

Crowley's confidence in his band shines through as he allows the group to dominate and challenge each other for a good portion of the latter half of the piece. The duel between Yayoi Ikawa (piano) and Peter Schwebs (bass) is an intense listen but probably even better to watch live.

"Momentum" does pull things back a little with Crowley coming to fore. Crowley has a strong tone and sensuality that fills the space with passion and a heavy heart. Ikawa adds a well constructed post bop map for the rest of the quintet to follow. This sound is very New York. A confident quintet delivering a sense of excitement and adventure in a tradition reminiscent of early One For All.

"Tabula Rasa" while inhabiting a Middle Eastern to Sub-Asian feel, doesn't get caught inside the usual traps of American musicians trying to create an Eastern atmospheric piece. Crowley has arranged a lot of room for his band mates to improvise and experiment. Nick Anderson (drums), Beatty and Schwebs really are the highlights here with delicate notes that become more detailed as the piece carries onward.

"Right Now" is probably the one piece that comes the closest to being study in hard bop. The performances are crisp, hard driving and affective. Connections is more downplayed with emotional movements, "Icarus" and "City Mood," demonstrates Crowley as a romantic with serious thematic ideas. Similar to larger scale moments presented by Terence Blanchard, Crowley appears to be eyeing larger but also insular concepts.

That grandness would become fully apparent on his second album, the recently released, At The Edge (Lonely Crow Records; 2011). Crowley circles himself with an entirely new quintet that is just as exciting as the one on his debut. They are challenging but also more exploratory. This is mainly due to the advancement of Crowley's experiences and writing.

Opening with the brief, Philip Glass tonality of "In Real Life" which quickly shifts to Hancock-Headhunters era fusion with "Find Me", you can hear Crowley has grown and is looking beyond just the notes on the page. "Find Me" is soulful, funky, experimental and still bouncing with 21st Century originality. The addition of Ziv Ravitz on drums adds a harder edge and muscle to the session. Julian Pollack's performance on both fender and piano are creative and moving in the same way fellow New York pianist, Bobby Avey has quickly risen within the local jazz scene.

"Sadness, Suffering, Hope, Triumph" is filled with deep melodic passages but those movements are not on the dark side. On the contrary, it is more like celebration in mellow tones. Crowley, Jeremy Udden (sax) and Pollack produce some lovely, complex themes and colours allowing this piece to beam with a sense of bright introspection.

"Shine" is my favourite track on At The Edge. It hearkens to the more contemporary pieces by Dave Douglas. It's peaceful passages are bold and romantic. There's a real lush sense of closure in the piece. It holds the listener's attention and really brings you into the fold of the album's main theme--what happens once you are at the edge?

The session closes with "These Four Walls," a ballad that beautifully encapsulates the maturity of Crowley's writing; the forward thinking sensibility that an artist can move back and forth through both fusion and hard bop in one session while still sounding original and moving with every note.

At The Edge is a more intense adventure but shows a huge leap in compositional excellence from Jon Crowley. He is a voice that is worth your discovery now rather than later. Connections and At The Edge are documents of a great leader and composer in the making. Highly Recommended.

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