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Darius Jones Trio - Big Gurl (Smell My Dream)

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Artist: Darius Jones Trio

Album: Big Gurl (Smell My Dream)

Label: AUM Fidelity

Review date: Oct. 7, 2011

It’s all about the sound, right? Well, maybe not exactly everything. But when an improviser, perhaps particularly a saxophonist, has something in the tone, the articulation and attack, the sustain and the breath, you’re onto something good. So what about the sound of an inside-out improvising trio? One good way to straddle the line between experimentalism and tradition is to generate something crisp and nimble and perhaps even funky about the group’s rhythmic language. With tone and momentum, lines can take shape in interesting ways, textures can breathe, and — in the case of Darius Jones’ music — spirits can rejoice.

For the last several years, Jones has been knocking people out with the sheer exultation and intense emotionalism of his sound, from uncontained joy to a deeply searching quality. Continuing the conceptual autobiography of Mani’ish Boy, Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) is comprised of Jones’ musical memories of growing up in Richmond. Both these records embodied Jones’ contention that jazz is “soul music.” As he once said in an interview for Roulette TV, “It’s the life-force, you know what I’m saying? I don’t have a choice anymore.” More specifically, though, Jones’ new batch of tunes reflects the following injunction he recently uttered: “Let’s not forget the dirty, the raw dirty.” So Big Gurl is a series of stories that burns hot with emotional conviction and technical invention.

At the heart of it is that purely splendid alto sound, with its big lusty tone that recalls the late great Thomas Chapin and an occasional propensity to veer off into dry, attacking statements that are more Steve Coleman than Jimmy Lyons. And there’s Jones’ affinity for vocalization and the pronounced sense of tension that he brings to his lines: a weirdly placed pause; a sudden fat honk in the middle of darting avianisms; a twisted off, crying note that suspends across the pulse. With Adam Lane on board, you know it’s swinging hard, and drummer Jason Nazary has a deep sense of fluidity in his grooves, from the whip-crack of the opening “E-Gaz” to the supple, dark ballad “Michele ♥ Willie.” I especially love Nazary’s sound on a twisted reading of “A Train”: his toms sound nicely wooden here, which contrasts well with his thick coppery cymbal sound, a bit like Paul Lovens channeling Roy Haynes. (Best of all, they end this performance with a few bars of one of the greatest and most nasty Duke tunes of all, “Such Sweet Thunder.”) While things are often quite bracing and urgent — as with “Chasing the Ghost” or the joyous raveup “Ol’ Metal-Faced Bastard” (a nod to M.F. Doom and ODB) — just as compelling are the trio’s darker moments. “My Special D” can be edgy and ominous in places, but perhaps the most intense performance on the record is “I Wish I Had a Choice,” filled with interesting harmonic tension (kudos to Lane here) and abundant layers of texture.

Big Gurl is another superb effort from Jones, who is taking a mix of top-shelf ingredients and making them over in his own language. And it’s righteous fun, lest we forget that challenging jazz can hit these buttons, too.

By Jason Bivins

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