Brian Charette, New York City Jazz Record
Jonathan Barber is a very gifted young drummer hailing from Hartford, CT who has created quite a stir this year, winning the prestigious “Best Up and Coming Drummer” award from Modern Drummer Magazine. Barber suffered a terrible tragedy in 2016 with the unexpected loss of his brother and writes in the liner notes of Vision Ahead that he used the project to overcome and transform his grief. The very personal lyrics and song titles give the listener a glimpse of his process.
The album opens with “Statement of Vision, the tone immediately set by a bubbling drum solo over dense analog synth harmony from keyboardist Taber Gable, who has great range, sounding equally comfortable on all the different keyboard instruments (check out his great Fender Rhodes solo on the title track and beautiful piano touch on his tune “The Covenant”). Saxophonist Godwin Louis takes a burning solo on the rocking tag of “Think On These Things”, slowly working his way into the altissimo register with great control and well-placed blues runs. His very natural small room sound serves as a great contrast to some of the more produced colors on the album. Guitarist Andrew Renfroe adds smart, fluid guitar textures as well as the beautifully minimal composition “Doubt” while his thoughtful solo on “Airport” uses subtle chorus and distortion with techniques like string skipping and speed picking to great effect.
Barber sounds very sharp on the whole session. On “Crown”, the album’s most straightahead tune, he he sings hard with great ride cymbal feel and crisp snare work. he hooks up effortlessly with bassist Matt Dwonszyk, who keeps the time light but driving with a clear sound and perfect intonation. Behind soloists, Barbers pops and snaps with whirring snare rolls without ever becoming bombastic. His four on the floor bass drum on “Time Will Tell” anchors the well-blended vocal work of Denise Renee and Sasha Foster. The leader himself adds some great vocoder to the cut after a surprise tone drum percussion break.
Barber turns in a very mature debut with Vision Ahead and joins the clan of drummer-led projects with advanced composition and tasteful application of chops.