by Michelle Mercer, NPR

Saxophonist and composer Greg Ward’s latest album, Stomping Off From Greenwood, is a tribute to Chicago, the city where he came of age as a musician. It’s also one of the year’s first great jazz albums.

The first time I played Ward’s new album, I was riveted by its sense of momentum and possibility, and the way its easy movement among styles made music feel like an open city.

The album title, Stomping Off From Greenwood, refers to a street where Ward lived on Chicago’s South Side. Ward, who’s 36 now, started his career in Chicago, jamming with the city’s jazz elders in clubs while he studied music in college.

Then, 10 years ago, Ward made a requisite move to New York to boost his career. He played widely, but a glut of one-off gigs left little time for his own music. So a few years ago, Ward returned to Chicago, where he could settle into a regular club gig with the same musicians, exploring ideas and affinities.

We hear a deep rapport on this album. Ward’s band, Rogue Parade, has the classic jazz instrumentation of upright bass and drums, but uniquely it also has two guitarists. These guitarists have distinct voices and use pedal effects musically, so they can contrast styles and moods, broadening the sound into a panorama. Ward’s own saxophone is so richly integrated into this band that it feels like it was born there.

They also take on a classic jazz tune, but in an unusual way. On the Hoagy Carmichael standard “Stardust,” the musicians manage to tell a story with just fragments of the melody. Rogue Parade’s version of “Stardust” feels like a walk home from a great last date, the street still glimmering with what’s been lost.

This album welcomes everyone to hear their own impressions of the music. Ward’s Stomping Off From Greenwood has all the excellence of modern jazz without a hint of the grandiosity. You can make your imagination at home here.

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