Kenny Lavender – Conscious Journey, Part 1 & 2 (2014)

For many artists, a double album is a tremendous risk. For Kenny Lavender, it’s a necessity

Conscious Journey Part 1 & 2 is a deeply personal project for the Dallas-born trumpeter and vocalist. “These tunes represent different stages in my personal growth,” he explains, “from falling in love with my wife to dealing with addiction and a lot in between.”

Lavender, who has assembled a 17-piece big band for the record, is a confident and compelling artist every step of the way and this is his opus. It’s also his debut, if you can believe it, and it sparks and shimmers with all the fire of a cat at this a long damn time.

In many ways, Lavender has been at this a long damn time. He started playing trumpet when he was 13 and studied music at Indiana University and the University of North Florida. He worked with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Clark Terry, Dave Brubeck, and the Manhattan Transfer. He cut his teeth working with several jazz orchestras, including the Copacabana Orchestra, and earned his stripes on Broadway.

Such an extensive career obviously holds a wealth of stories to tell and that’s were Conscious Journey Part 1 & 2 comes in.

The first disc stars with the fiery and aptly-titled “Velocity,” a cooker of a number that begins with big band flair and never lets up. Bassist Phil Palombi and drummer Andy Watson set the table and the horns blast away hard, pulling out strands of melody and blaring with heavy, brassy precision.

Lavender shows his vocal ability on “As I Close My Eyes,” a romantic piece that wouldn’t be out of place at a supper club. His tone is poised and clear as he rides out over Rick Germanson’s ivory accompaniment.

“Down in NOLA” is another first disc highlight, with the nod to New Orleans playing out with Kurt Bacher’s clarinet blazing a trail. There’s a lovely overture to the piece that taps into something almost spiritual before the tempo kicks in and Lavender’s vocals take their spirited footing.

The second disc features “I Could Write A Book,” the Rodger and Hart number. Once again the big band swing is at the core of the piece. Lavender’s arrangement flips it into an ode to Louis Armstrong, while his vocals are straightforward and hip. There’s also “Una Mas,” the closing number. This is a pull-out-all-the-stops bandstand tune, with Palombi’s bass trading spurs with the brass in a frisky conversation. Once again, Lavender’s talents shine and his ability to elevate the other members of the band is incontestable.

Conscious Journey Part 1 & 2 would be a risk in lesser hands, but Lavender makes this double album a treat with his confident playing and warm singing. His arrangements are daring without being self-indulgent, while his heart and soul is on display in every note on every chart. A big band blast of a recording, this is one journey worth taking time and time again.

Jordan Richardson

Jordan Richardson is a Canadian freelance writer and ne'er-do-well. He also contributes to his own Canadian Cinephile and Canadian Audiophile websites. Contact Something Else! Reviews at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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