Here is another great example of genre-crossing music where it really doesn’t matter how you want to call it. There is a lot of jazz, soul, funk, r&b, gospel, and spititual included in the new album by Jean and Marcus Baylor. I had the big honor and pleasure of seeing Jean perform live during last year’s Winter Jazzfest in New York where she graced the stage for a couple of songs with Grégoire Maret. Her angelic voice is only hinted at in the mostly instrumental, wonderfully grooving opener “Block Party”, a massive tour-de-force conglomerate of soul, gospel, and jazz.
Jean’s full power and beauty is displayed on the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”, which treads along smoothly, complete with soulful sax (Bob Mintzer) and churchy organ (Shedrick Mitchell). The track turns into a veritable soul stepper and Jean really soars to the skies. The way she uses her instrument comes across so easy and natural, sometimes reminding me of a young Anita Baker in her phrasing and yet, always shows more nuances with each listen. This is especially becoming clear on the brilliant arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me A Bedtime Story”, turned into “Tell Me A Story” here. The overall mood is overtly laid-back, almost esoteric, with great piano and trumpet work and soothing background vocals. A real treat.
A few standards are also included here. The perfect pitch on “Tenderly”, which starts with piano accompaniment only, then switches to a bluer than blue nightclub ambiance with a Houston Person-type tenor sax and cool bass, proves that Jean is equally at peace with interpreting the Great American Songbook with grace and conviction. The way she phrases “love” in the final repeat of “you took my love so tenderly” is worth the prize alone. The mood continues elegantly and relaxing with “Our Love Is Here To Stay”, a pretty worn-out song that gets the bluesy touch later on and even though its performance is flawless and perfect, I think it is simply overdone.
The original “Again”, with lush strings at the beginning, turns into a real drama with cascading trumpet and sax solos and an extremely powerful and fierce execution and also includes some scatting from Jean – I’m still no scat fan and more than happy that this section is kept to a minimum. In fact, towards the end of the track, the easing and soothing nature of the song returns.
If you think you’ve heard enough versions of “Summertime”, think again. I was very hesitant at first when I saw that the Gershwin classic is included here, but this has got to be the most sensuous and sexy version of the song ever. Brandee Younger‘s soulful harp is put over a slouching percussion backbeat and the beautiful guitar solo (Marvin Sewell) and piano help Jean paint the perfect picture of a sweltering summer day. Added to the mix on the album are pianist Allyn Johnson, guitarist Rayfield Holloman, bassists Dezron Douglas, Chris Smith, David Ginyard, and Corcoran Holt, saxophonist Keith Loftis, trumpeters Freddie Hendrix and Keyon Herrold, trombonist Stafford Hunter, and percussionists Pablo Batista and Aaron Draper.
There is a nine-minute powerjam version of “Afro Blue” (and more of those cool Anita Bakerisms), followed by my personal fave of the bunch here: “Laugh And Move On”, the most soulful cut to appear this year so far, excels everything else. The background vocal arrangement is brilliant and Jean’s vocal is outstanding. I think this is the kind of stuff I’d like to hear more from her. And about the song she says: “This song reminds me of an era in music that focused on telling a story with a lot of soul and some good ole’ fashioned singing about letting the tough times roll off your back.” We need more of those!
Husband and wife, drums and vocals, dance together on “Journey”, the final cut and title track, an experimental rhythm and voice sojourn during the duo’s voyage.