Country : United States Label : Blue Note Genres and styles : Blues / chamber jazz / Gospel / Modern Jazz Year : 2023

Joel Ross – nublues

· by Varun Swarup

Joel Ross, the beloved wunderkind of jazz vibraphone, once again delivers a fine and spirited set on his latest Blue Note outing, Nublues. As the title suggests, the point of entry here – or the point of departure perhaps- is the blues. Inspired by a seminar he took on the subject during his time at the New School, this album seems to serve as vehicle for Ross and his band to arrive at the essence of what the blues really is all about. The album certainly sounds as such, it has a probing quality that remains consistent throughout this delightfully varied set of ten tunes.

While this album is all about the blues it doesn’t always sound bluesy, because as Ross himself writes, the blues is ultimately a “a sort of spirit, an energy”. And it’s precisely that energy that runs the course of this album’s length. The opening number ‘early’ sets the tone easy enough, with a brooding and earthiness that lets the blues feeling unfurl like a flower. The second number, ‘equinox’, a Coltrane classic, is not your typical blues either. By the end of the track, the band arrive at a sort of post-rock, chamber-jazz, sound that is just sublime. 

Needless to say Ross’s mastery of the vibraphone is on full display, showcasing his ability to extract a rich spectrum of tones and emotions from the instrument. One of the remarkable qualities of Nublues is Ross’s willingness to push the envelope while staying true to the essence of his sound. The experimental elements add layers of complexity to the arrangements, creating a sense of unpredictability that keeps the listener on the edge of their seat. Yet, even in the midst of sonic exploration, the soulful core of Ross’s music remains intact. One need only to listen to “bach (god the father in eternity)” or “chant” to experience the depth of musical expression on display here.

The collaborative effort with his talented ensemble adds depth to the overall sonic landscape. Each musician brings a unique voice to the album, contributing to the rich tapestry of sounds. The interplay between the musicians speaks to the sense of warmth and trust amongst them. From the introspective ballads to the dynamic and rhythmically intricate compositions, the album is a testament to Ross’s versatility as a musician and a composer. His ability to blend the experimental with the familiar showcases a maturity that sets him apart in the contemporary jazz landscape. 

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