‘Live from Jazz at the Bistro’ exhibits Sean Jones’ creative spark

The young jazz veteran trumpeter Sean Jones believes passionately in championing the creative arc of artists who are committed to their life journey.
“I think the progression of the art form [jazz] comes with people being allowed to be themselves in their rawest form with no compromise,” he noted and added, “My body of work is going to show a progression of who Sean Jones is in the most honest form.”
While he spoke these words a few years ago, they serve as a vivid manifesto for his new Mack Avenue Records album, Live from Jazz at the Bistro, his eighth for the label and arguably the most dynamic, playful and loose-limbed excursion of his career. Indeed, the 38-year-old Jones brings to the sessions a stalwart poise, the fire of ecstasy and a whimsy in motion. The album is now available for purchase.
“In a nutshell, I’ve been wanting to do a live album for a while,” he says in a news release. “I wanted to capture the band’s energy live and record what it’s like to go to one of my gigs. Granted, recording in a studio creates a polished sound where the music is all tied up. But this album, it’s real raw.”
Recorded at the St. Louis club Jazz at the Bistro, the seven-song album, produced by Al Pryor, features Jones presenting two versions of his band, as quartet and quintet, as they “hover on the bandstand between sobriety and intoxication,” he says. The longstanding quartet, comprising pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire has been together for 11  years.
“Having a band this long is really rare in jazz these days,” Jones says. “It’s really hard to do, but we have managed to keep playing together. When we play, it’s become like a conversation, like second nature.” The exception here is bringing in drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. on four tunes as a replacement for Calvaire, due to a scheduling conflict. On the four quintet tracks, Jones showcases another old friend and collaborator, alto and soprano saxophonist Brian Hogans.

SuperBand returns with Mack Avenue Records release available Sept. 2

superbandMack Avenue SuperBand’s Live From The Detroit Jazz Festival – 2013 documents a concert at the Motor City’s capacious Hart Plaza by an ensemble of leaders culled from Mack Avenue Records‘ extraordinary artist roster. It’s the second configuration of the group, which debuted at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival, mixing veteran stars with mid-career leaders and up-and-comers. The resulting album, Live From The Detroit Jazz Festival – 2012, received critical kudos for the fiery chemistry and soloistic derring-do contained therein.

Back for round two are trumpeter Sean Jones, guitarist Evan Perri, and the rhythm section of pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist (and music director) Rodney Whitaker and drummer Carl Allen, plus Gary Burton returns as a special guest. Joining the mix are veteran soul/jazz saxophone giant Kirk Whalum and the sensational vibraphonist-marimbist Warren Wolf. The results are scintillating-a program as cohesive and precise as a studio recording, but infused with energetic vibrations emanating from the several thousand hip, enthusiastic fans who attended the concert.

Whitaker attributes the simpatico in part to his process of following collective, inclusive principles in organizing the program. “I solicited everyone’s input,” he says in a news release. “With artists at this level, you don’t need to dictate every moment. Sometimes it’s more important to listen and facilitate. When you have a conversation with everyone about what music we’re playing and the direction we want to go, everybody buys in.”

Whitaker discerns several common denominators that promoted camaraderie. One is the role of gospel music in the musical development of Whalum, Jones, Wolf, Diehl, Allen and himself during formative years. “Everyone – not just those who grew up in church – tries to tell a story in the way they play, in the way they try to touch an audience and say something to them,” he says. “They put together their solos to get across a message that music is not just about notes, but has some greater meaning, whatever you may translate that to mean.”

That communicative quality permeates the proceedings. So does the high level of mutual respect of each member for the musical abilities of all the others.

“Everyone liked performing together,” Whitaker says. “You could feel it in the rehearsals. Everyone felt empowered. There was no hierarchy, no one playing the star. In 2012, the idea was more to have a showcase for everyone’s skill, and have people come on and off the bandstand. This year, Al and Denny wanted a more cohesive sound, and that’s how all the musicians felt, too.”