David Ake – Humanities (2018)

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Humanities marks David Ake’s twentieth year as a Posi-Tone recording artist and the pianist, composer, author and educator has enjoyed a career rich with experience and formal learning stretching much longer than that. It’s a background that went into this hitch-free six-hour recording session from late summer of 2017 using a collection of top-shelf talent that nonetheless never recorded or gigged together before.

Ake and the trumpet player Ralph Alessi are certainly familiar with each other, as both attended CalArts together back in the 80s, where Ake earned his masters in Jazz Studies. Joining these two old friends for this album were Ben Monder (guitar), Drew Gress (bass) and drummer Mark Ferber.

But personnel and Ake’s advanced modern jazz composition style aren’t the only things going for this album; Ake sets up arrangements that take virtually all the staidness out and let everyone breathe.

The most obvious example of this is found with Monder, who is given the freedom to branch out into tones and styles they stretch out beyond jazz: his shimmering chords turning into rock fuzz tone adds character to “Groundwork” and Alessi steers the song back toward a modern jazz bent as the two engage in a battle for the heart of the song as it comes tumbling toward the finish. Monder’s Frisell expressionisms dovetail perfectly with Ake and Alessi’s muted horn to enhance the balladry of “Ripple.”

The outside-the-box approach to execution applies to everyone, though. “You May Have Already Won” is Brazilian festive but also has the feel of a jam: everyone is soloing almost all as once while maintaining the groove. Ferber’s brushes stars in the ambling “Hoofer,” a song with a blues-y feel though it’s not a blues. Nonetheless, Ake’s relaxed, delightful piano solo could fool you into thinking that, and Ferber is soloing with sass just below Alessi’s own improvising. The syncopation between Ake and Gress behind Alessi’s lead trumpet makes “The North” stand out, as does the return of Monder’s stinging guitar lines.

Individual performances excel not because of their technical proficiency but because everyone has plied their trade long enough to understand that jazz is about emotion, not science. Alessi’s poignant trumpet greets the ears at the beginning of “Humanities,” but Ake accompanies with a lovely progression and a savvy economy of notes. The unhurried “Drinking Song” showcases Gress leaving behind a lovely, woody bass aside. Gress is immediately there to greet you at the start of “Stream,” another well-thought out melody with lots of contours accented by Monder and Alessi playing in unison, later pushing each other by playing in opposition. Lastly, “Walter Cronkite” flows without any real timekeeping, a spiritual coda that’s a paean to the late, great news anchor.

An album of this level of sophistication and nuance isn’t the kind of jazz that comes from someone fresh out of the conservatory. David Ake puts decades of experience and education behind Humanities, propelling it to be what will certainly be one of the best mainstream jazz releases of the year.


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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