John Esposito

The Blue People

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John Esposito is an exciting mainstream progressive jazz piano player. He's always offering lucid, forward-thinking, rhythmically propelling ideas, and displays the right mix of moxie and taste. For this effort he delves into the modern hard bop to post-bop arena, with no small flourishes of the music Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, John Coltrane, and Art Blakey propagated in the '60s. But Esposito has updated those styles with a complex set of charts, all of his own doing, that require close listening tools. Pay full attention to hear the street smarts and imagination Esposito utilize to make all of this music come alive. Rising star trumpeter Greg Glassman and veteran alto saxophonist Eric Person deserve much credit in taking Esposito's charts, running with them, and adding their own personal flair, distinctive tones, and textures. This is not easy music, but not so diffuse as to avoid a melodic center or ignore the raucous nature of rambling, gambling music. The CD is bookended by hard swingers: the opener, "Boppin'," has a melody that sounds like it is played backwards, goofy, and a little off-kilter; while "Fast Ride" is more straight and true, but retains an edge that recalls the more challenging material that Hubbard or Sam Rivers might have contributed to the Blue Note label. "Flex" is another post-bop but angular swinger with great solos from the horns. A churning modal 11/8 rhythm suggests both Asian and African influences during the excellent "Musashi," while Arabic or Native American elements and Person's soprano sax inform the snake charmer-styled title track, with the dark serpentine ostinato bass of Kenny Davis setting the tone before switching to an escapist samba. The deviously conceived "Just Fiends," clearly a mutation of "Just Friends," has a chopped-up Glassman and Person agreeing and disagreeing vigorously. Two ballads, "Late November" and "Joan," are emotional opposites, the former a shadowy waltz for impending winter, the latter a post-romantic free discourse from rhythm or bar lines, featuring the poignant and sullen alto sax of Person. Esposito's individualistic piano playing needs repeated audio observation to realize its uniqueness, but this is more his composer's forum. He succeeds on many real and important levels in creating some of the finest new modern jazz you may hear in the post-Wynton Marsalis era.

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