The third album from San Francisco trumpeter Erik Jekabson's Electric Squeezebox Orchestra, 2019's Matter Is, finds the adventurous big band performing an eclectic, deeply sophisticated set of songs with voices. On his own, Jekabson works as a university professor and leads a handful of groups that have touched upon straight-ahead jazz, post-bop, classical, fusion, and Latin traditions. He brings all of this to bear on Matter Is. These are richly attenuated large group compositions borne out of Jekabson and Electric Squeezebox Orchestra's five-year residency at Doc's Lab in San Francisco and the California Jazz Conservatory based in Berkley. The voices showcased here alongside the ensemble are poet Avotcja and singers Sandy Cressman, Madeline Eastman, Kenny Washington, and Kalil Wilson. Avotcja opens the album with the expansive title track which features her commanding spoken word poetry framed by a warm chordal arrangement that brings to mind Stan Kenton. She also adds literate flavor to the swinging, Thad Jones-esque hard bopper "Soundly Metaphysical (Decision)," and pays vibrant homage to singer Betty Carter on "Who's That Lady?." Jekabson then showcases Kalil Wilson's resonant tenor croon on the singer's own elegiac "The Wind," and puts the spotlight on Kenny Washington with a swinging, scat-infused reading of "Days of Wine and Roses." Shifting gears, Sandy Cressman offers a vibrant boss nova number "Como Eu Quero Cantar (I Just Want to Sing)" that she sings in Portuguese. Similarly engaging is Madeline Eastman's instrumental-like rendition of "One Finger Snap/Love for Sale," a mash-up of the Herbie Hancock and Cole Porter songs which also features dynamic solo turns by Jekabson and tenor saxophonist Mike Zilber. As with much of Jekabson's work with the Electric Squeezebox Orchestra, Matter Is gives voice to the culturally diverse and artistically cross-pollinated Bay Area where it originated.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar