Las Vegas trombone player Nate Kimball plays with none of his native city’s glitzy clichés. In fact, Warrior’s Journey is a wonder of tensile, perfectly constructed, never-showy modern jazz.
He begins with a smoke-filled introduction on the title track, coupled at first only with guitarist Joe Lano. Together they create a twilit landscape of melancholic intrigue. Then, as the rest of Kimball’s group enthusiastically join in, “Warrior’s Journey” catches a second gear, quickly evolving into a fleet, polyrhythmic joy ride. Kimball’s solo is locomotive, and complex, a tribute to his facility on an instrument than can sometimes be limiting as an improvisational tool. Lano steps to the fore for a searching, lyrical turn, then drummer Larry Aberman creates a series of sizzling and then crashing counterpoints as the tune – once the very portrait of hushed expectation – ends with a stirring energy and passion.
Pianist Brian Triola plays with a keen incisiveness to open “Way Station,” and as he’s joined by Kimball and an active Steve Flora on bass, the song settles into a romantic ebullience. They swing with considerable force, but never let go of the sun-filled theme. Lano’s solo this time boasts the pluck and groove of classic Wes Montgomery.
Kimball, a graduate of the Downbeat-award winning UNLV jazz program and trombonist in the New York production of Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Zumanity’ show, slows into a scintillating, slow-percolating cry for “Far Away,” accompanied at first by only a whispering Aberman. Even when the others join in, they play with a quiet confidentiality – and the effect is extraordinary: Coiled, deeply emotional. Whereas the trombone was overmatched once the faster articulations of bebop came into vogue, it’s uniquely situated for this kind of contemplative setting. Flora’s bubbling asides recall Scott LaFaro’s intuitive work in Bill Evans’ legendary trio.
“Road to La Coruna” finds the group switching to a languid, island-inflected cadence. It’s sweetly conveyed, but seemingly a lesser companion to the mournful triumph of “Far Away,” until Triola takes over on electric piano. That gives the tune the feel of 1970s-era fusion, something that works in fizzy antithesis to the more straight-forward surroundings. Kimball, who has previously worked with Chick Corea, Mark Stoermer and Ronnie Vannucci Jr., seems emboldened by Triola’s turn. His own subsequent solo is a muscular, emphatic statement of purpose. Lano’s segment then returns “La Coruna” back to its original undulating pace.
“Hello World” simmers with a similarly subtle imagination, from Kimball’s lead lines – he blows with a lively, but controlled verve – to Lano’s delicate but forceful commentary just below the melody. Triola plays with a similarly impressive low-fat attention to detail, over a delightfully funky little groove from Flora and Aberman. Lean and un-self-indulgent, “Hello World” would, in fact, make a great introduction for this band with any jazz listener. In an era in which the impulse of most is to do too much, Kimball and Co. get it just right on “Hello World.”
Really, that’s the calling card of Warrior’s Journey, an idea that is borne out again on album-closing “Back Home,” which quickly emerges from its largely expected crepuscular intro. That might have been a bit too on the nose. Instead, Kimball’s soft wail leads the way into a West Coast-sounding swinger of steel-trap precision. Kimball answers the call, offering a handful of his most determined flourishes. Lano and Flora then tangle and untangle, with the bassist’s bouncingly limber asides working in intriguing contrast. Aberman is given another spotlight, before Kimball returns to the original theme – which, after all of that gripping interplay – emerges with new layers of meaning.