Darius Jones Trio – Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) (2011)

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photo courtesy of AUM Fidelity; feature photo by Peter Gannushkin

Darius Jones might be the fastest rising star in the whack jazz world or at least, the fastest rising alto sax player within that realm. After a well-received debut in ’09 (Man’ish Boy (A Raw And Beautiful Thing)) and a great, primal punk jazz album last year with Little Women, Jones solidified his position among the current crop of improvised music heavies earlier this year with his terrific duo record with Matthew Shipp, Cosmic Lieder. Given all that, his next solo record is bound to get more attention, which, incidentally, is out today.

Called Big Gurl (Smell My Dream), Jones returns to the trio format, but a more conventional one this time with Adam Lane on bass and fellow Little Women compadre Jason Nazary on drums. As with Man’ish Boy, Jones once again chooses the economical arrangement to give him the space to say everything he needs to say musically, which is a lot. Jones’ sonic footprint is so huge and yet so soulful for an out jazz performer, that I often find myself forgetting that there aren’t any full chords being played on this record. In a way, he’s like Albert Ayler, occasionally playing very simple melodies, but put in the context of free form jazz, it ends up adding an intriguing layer of complexity. And like Ayler often did, Jones can go headlong into the abyss in the blink of an eye and come back from it just as quickly.

But that reference point only serves to illustrate one facet of his approach; Jones has some emotional maturity in his expression that belies the fact that he’s only moved up to NYC from Richmond, Virginia six years ago. However, it’s that incubation period of his life in Richmond learning to become the singular saxophonist and composer he is today that is the theme for Big Gurl.

The seven original tracks presented here are meant to reference all the kinds of music that Jones has a fondness for: soul, jazz, gospel, underground hip-hop, funk, rock and blues. You won’t find anything in here that’s overtly any of these things beyond jazz, but the point, I believe, is to find those sources of inspiration within his own musical personality. A clue to this is “A Train” (video of live performance below), which is derived directly from Billy Strayhorn’s “Take The A Train.” Listening to it without knowing the connection to Strayhorn’s composition, it can be fairly easy to miss that Jones is more or less covering it. Knowing that he does, you realize how he slyly converted this song but retained its core.

For his own songs, Jones tells the story of his development freely, “without boundaries.” “I Wish I Had a Choice” is a ballad that Jones turns into a convincing ballad solely from the emotional way he slides from one note to another, something that’s becoming a hallmark of his. It’s even more prominent over the cycling bass figure that anchors “Michele ? Willie.” He elongates his notes on “My Special ‘D’” in a sorrowful way, but his rhythm section builds up a tension that spills over by the end of the song.

“Chasing The Ghost” might be seen as Jones’ own “Chasin’ The Trane,” a high wire act without the net where Jones sets off down harmonic trails where the urgency of finding his way out also adds to the thrill of the ride. “Ol’ Metal-Faced Bastard” suggests heavy metal and funk, articulated by Jones shredding it like a rock guitarist. Lane’s crucial bass lines gives Jones plenty of leaping off points on “E-Gaz,” and for one huge leap toward the end, he joins Jones in the shrillfest by putting a bow to his bass. Wickedly sublime.

The CD’s artwork by graphic artist Randal Wilcox are some creepy looking illustrations of a three-eyed, four-legged woman and her gigantic, three-eyed dog. But don’t be afraid of the music contained within; Darius Jones doesn’t bite. Well, not too hard, anyway.

Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) is a AUM Fidelity release.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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