It has been a very busy 2014 for me. My main focus this year was launching my career as a novelist. I spent most of the year working on Mindguard and the rest of it learning the ropes of self-publishing. Unfortunately, that meant I had a lot less time to dedicate to The Music and Myth than I would have liked. Consequently, I’ve fallen behind on some records I was planning to review. One of my main writing goals for 2015 is to be able to generate more time and energy for my beloved “jazz writing”.
On December 5th I will receive a very nice birthday present: the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences will be announcing the nominations for next year’s Grammy Awards, which means yours truly will start preparing his predictions, as well as the Music and Myth Awards for 2014.
But, until then, let’s take a look at one of the albums I have been meaning to write about since summer. Back in June, I had the wonderful opportunity to be in the audience at the INNtoene jazz festival, held at Paul Zauner’s bio-farm. This hidden gem of a yearly jazzfest brings together musicians from all over the world in a unique ambiance. It was there that I was introduced to the music of Carlton Holmes, who had a solo gig on the third day of the event. Here’s what I wrote about his performance:
As the New York pianist tells his tuneful story, he completely captivates the audience with his hypnotic playing, that is as delicate as it is delectable.
Afterwards, I managed to get my hands on his debut album, You, Me and I, released in 2010. I have since been looking for an opportunity to write about it.
Joining the pianist for the duration of over an hour are bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Donald Edwards. The records starts with a version of Wayne Shorter’s “Edda” and Holmes already gets Music-and-Myth points for an inspired choice for an opening track. The trio’s version is charming and does a good job of introducing the musicians and inviting the listener to get a feel for their interplay. From the get-go, it is obvious that Holmes is a grand instrumentalist, but also that he is a seasoned musician, because he is wise enough to know how to showcase his skill without sacrificing the flow and musicality of the songs (like, for example, the incredibly talented but sometimes downright tiring Hiromi).
The record continues with the first of Holmes’ six compositions, “Theme to Ginger’s Rise”. I loved the tension from the opening moments of the song and the way the pianist gently transitions to a softer sound. There’s a well-constructed, dynamic narrative, heightened by the thoroughly enjoyable interplay between Holmes and drummer Edwards. As a first contact with Holmes’ creativity, this track definitely sets a high standard for the rest of the record.
“Theme for Gregory”, originally written by Bill Kirchner, offers some enjoyable moments from Holmes and bassist Nakamura, who has a very good solo around the midpoint. However, I felt this track wasn’t really as strong as the first two and, as a result, the album loses a bit of steam. Fortunately, it gains a second wind with “My Isha”.
Written by Holmes, this excellent, high-energy tune feels fresh and displays some masterful playing from all three musicians. I applaud the decision to finish the piece with a spectacular drum solo, a layout you don’t often get to hear in songwriting.
Nearing the halfway point, the record changes pace with a beautiful and tender rendition of “Here’s to Life”, followed by “The Glass Slipper”, which reminded me of the sound of Jason Domnarski’s Here and There.
They follow it up with a fantastic version of Cedar Walton’s “Firm Roots”, in my opinion one of the best tracks on the album. Here, the already cohesive band-members display their most captivating interaction. “Soul Sanctuary” is another solid Holmes composition where the pianist gets to highlight his excellent timing and innate understanding of atmosphere and the narrative complexity of sound. Nakamura once again has a brilliant solo in one of the standout moments of the entire record.
After an energetic take on Herbie Hancock’s “I Have a Dream”, the musicians close with a trio of Holmes’ own compositions. The first one is the brilliant “A Meditation”, with its vision of rain prickling over a freshwater lake (well, at least that’s my vision), which seems to belong in the ECM catalog – always a compliment for any piece of music. Though it sounds like it should be divergent to the rest of the record, it somehow manages a completely fluid transition and is another one of the album’s highlights. “Kenny’s Song Goodbye” is a soft and pleasant ballad that threatens to be unspectacular until it builds up to a powerful, emotional finale. The emotion carries over to “Yumi and I”, which closes the record in powerful, dramatic fashion. With its masterful display of expression, where the energy builds up to a stunning, and very coherent conclusion, “Yumi and I” is one of the better closing songs I’ve heard in a while.
Overall, the album does a fine job of showcasing the talent of all three musicians. However, it really excels at revealing the creative promise of Carlton Holmes as a composer. While “You, Me and I” is enjoyable in its entirely, with no weak song among the generous twelve tracks, it’s in Holmes’ own compositions that the band truly gets to shine. I definitely recommend this record. It may not instantly hook you, but give it a careful listen and I guarantee you will be drawn to the depth and consummate musicianship of Holmes and his band.