A longtime member of both the Mingus Big Band and the Roy Haynes Quartet, saxophonist Jaleel Shaw had first gotten my attention as a leader with 2008′s Optimism and his ASCAP award winning song “Flipside.” His long overdue successor to Optimism is finally here, and The Soundtrack Of Things To Come features more of his standout alto and soprano sax, but it’s also a series of personal statements from the artist: “I looked at my recent compositions and found that each one spoke to every experience I’d just recently had,” said Shaw, including the deaths of some close family members. It was also around this time (2011) that Shaw formed a new quartet with Lawrence Fields (piano), Boris Kozlov (bass), and the only holdover from Optimism, Jonathan Blake (drums).
The Soundtrack Of Things To Come, perhaps accordingly, betrays more emotion than its mostly even-keeled predecessor. We hear Shaw, with the tone of Wayne Shorter and the articulation of John Coltrane, raining down his own sheets of sound on restless numbers such as “I Wish I Didn’t Know,” “The Wheel Of Life,” and “Leel’s Tune.” But just as skillfully, Shaw can be whimsical as on the bouncy ¾-paced “Song For Sid” or meditative on “Ballerina,” both songs, by the way, where he trades in his usual alto sax for a soprano. For the empyrean minor key ballad “Sister” or out in front of Fields’ the Sunday morning stylings of “Faith,” Shaw reveals his soul through his sax. “Chroma,” which features an Elvin Jones kind of rhythm from Blake, finds Shaw in a particularly spiritual mood.
There’s also a shift in Shaw’s composing approach. He assembles ostinatos of complexity but with themes of sharp definition, such as the ones found on “I Wish.” “Conclusions” (which has a nice countering bass line from Kozlov), “The Understanding” and “Leel’s Tune.” Fully assimilated with rhythm patterns that sometimes fluctuate subtly or not so subtly, these are similar to the construction found on that “Flipside” song, but instead of being the exception, such an approach becomes the standard way on Soundtrack.
Jaleel Shaw is far too talented to go half a decade between records, but with a hot new band now up and going, there’s hope he’ll be letting us know in a musical way what’s on his mind. I know I’ll be listening.
The Soundtrack Of Things To Come will go on sale March 12, by Shaw’s Changu Records. Visit Jaleel Shaw’s website for more info.