Over the many years that I've run this jazz blog, I've had dozens of people write in from all over the world, asking me to review their latest jazz album. My answer has always been, "Sorry, but I don't do reviews."
There are a number of reasons for which I don't want to do jazz album reviews, but the main one is that I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. If you ask me to write a review, you are asking me to be honest about your music. And therein lies the problem. If I don't like what I hear, I'm forced to write a negative review, or I have to tell you that I have nothing positive to write. Either way, it's an unpleasant situation that I'd rather avoid altogether.
Another important reason for not writing reviews is the time investment it requires. As it is, I barely have enough time to write one blog article each month. Imagine how infrequent my postings would be if I also had a stack of albums that required my undivided attention. Writing album reviews would also eat into the time I have for practicing the trumpet. All of that lost time would most certainly delay my advancement from "not very good" to "so-so." I'm so close to finally becoming a "so-so" jazz trumpeter that I just can't take the risk!
And lastly, I don't like reading jazz album reviews. I do like to know if something's worth checking out, but a star rating and a sentence or two about the style of music is really all I need. The last thing I want to read is a track-by-track transcript of somebody's reaction to an album. "At the 1:20 mark, the saxophonist burst into a cacophony of pops and squeaks, reminding me of that time I dropped my iPhone and it tumbled down the rusty fire escape of my rent-controlled Village apartment..." Um, just tell me if it's good or not.
MELVIN JONES PIVOT - ALBUM REVIEW
Now that you know how I feel about writing reviews, you can imagine how utterly disappointed I was when I first listened to trumpeter Melvin Jones' debut album and thought, "this is so good, I have to write about it!"
I first heard Melvin Jones play the trumpet in 2005, at a Churchill Grounds jam session. At the time, he was the young director of bands at Morehouse College, where he led both the jazz and marching bands. I'm sure that was a demanding job, but even with limited time behind the horn, he always managed to sound better each time I heard him play. Things have really picked up over the past year or two, though, due to his recent gig touring with Tyler Perry's backing band. It sounds like he's been practicing and playing a lot more and the result is nothing short of astounding. Melvin Jones is no longer just one of the best trumpeters in Atlanta, he's one of the best trumpet players you'll find anywhere. As Melvin suggests in the liner notes to this album, it isn't a case where you say an album is long overdue. Instead, this is the perfect time for Melvin to introduce himself to the world.
Melvin Jones' debut album, "Pivot," also features Atlanta-based Mace Hibbard on saxophone. Mace Hibbard is one of my favorite jazz musicians, and his playing on "Pivot" is easily the best I've heard from him in any recording thus far. Melvin Jones and Mace Hibbard have performed many times together around Atlanta so they've spent years developing the chemistry that you'll hear on "Pivot." They complement each other perfectly both when playing a tune's melodies and when soloing together, as you'll hear toward the end of the gospel tune "Angels," the album's only non-original composition.
Rodney Jordon plays bass throughout the album, however the rest of the lineup changes a bit from tune to tune. You'll hear Louis Heriveaux and Brian Hogans on piano, Leon Anderson, Terreon Gully, and "Lil" John Roberts on drums, and a couple of tunes that include Jeff Bradshaw on trombone and Michael Burton on saxophone. All in all, it's a strong lineup of musicians who have known and/or performed with each other for quite some time.
What was it that I said about track-by-track reviews? Oh, ya, I don't like them. So here's my track-by-track analysis... just kidding. I will at least say that this album features a good mix of straight-ahead up-tempo tunes, ballads, and groove-oriented tracks. Don't me ask what groove-oriented means, I thought it sounded like something a real reviewer might say. Really, I couldn't think of a better way to say one song has an electric bass and a funky beat. To keep things honest, I will say that tune ("Philly Time Zone") might be the weakest on the album, but only because it sounds like the rhythm section and soloists drift apart a little in the solos. The original melody of the tune and initial groove sounds great, though.
Below you'll hear a performance of "Jug-Or-Not," the albums first track, from the band's CD release party at Churchill Grounds on April 9, 2011. This recording features Melvin Jones on trumpet, Mace Hibbard on saxophone, Louis Heriveaux on piano, Rodney Jordon on bass, and Marlon Patton on drums. Unfortunately, my camera shut off right as they were playing the head at the end of the solos. I guess this means you'll have to buy the album to hear how it ends!