One should listen to "Touch My Beloved's Thoughts" all the way through each time. One can marvel at the arrangements, how the composer/arranger shares the melody among the participants, how the solos naturally rise out of the music, how each musician's voice counts, and how the ensemble gels in front of a live audience (the music was recorded at Constellation in Chicago). You do not need to see the dancers to enjoy the way the songs connect. Ward's alto soars on the opening cut, "Daybreak", yet he makes sure to step back to the ensemble so that the phrase that the reeds and brass play can lead in to "Singular Serenade", a handsome piano spotlight for Luxion (whose career includes recording and tours with trumpeter Chet Baker.) The pianist is also featured on the next track, "The Menacing Lean", an up-tempo bolero where he not only solos but has several interactions with the brass.
The program moves in many directions all the way, building to the powerful final track, "Gather Round, the Revolution Is At Hand" with its martial drumming, bouncy bass line, and excellent solos from Russ Johnson as well as Ward. The leader traverses over fascinating territory while also sharing variations of the melody with the piano and the other reeds plus the counterpoint of the brass and the powerful drumming of Evans (a longtime member of flutist Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble). It's a stunning close to a splendid work of art.
Though this is only his third album as a leader and first with a large ensemble, Greg Ward shows a distinctive voice as a composer (also, he has written for dance troupes before). Yes, there's a Mingus connection to "Touch My Beloved's Thoughts" but, because Ward utilizes some similar approaches, this piece does not feel overly derivative. In fact, this music sounds quite fresh.
For more information, go to www.greenleafmusic.com/touch-my-beloveds-thought/.
Take a look:
Excerpts from Touch My Beloved's Heart from BraveSoul on Vimeo.
Vocalist Sara Serpa appears on two tracks, the thoughtful yet uptempo "Osaka June" with fine solos from Wilson (soprano sax) and Ridl in the midst of glorious section writing. Ms. Serpa's reedy voice is paired with the brass and it's a pleasing juxtaposition. She does get minute or so in front of the band but soon steps aside for the solos. Her soft voice stands on the pleasing arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Aquas de Marco", singing unison with the flutes and, after the fine piano solo, is shadowed by the clarinets, returning near the end to help those flutes take the piece out.
"Portraits and Places" not only does the legacy of Thad Jones justice but continues to build upon it. If anything, the original compositions and arrangements of Scott Reeves have more structure, more of a role in the themes of the compositions, and, at many times during the album, a playful sweep and a joy about them. Open the windows and let this music fly.
For more information, go to www.creativejazz.com.
Here's a pictoral look at and a listen to a piece from the album's recording session: