Justin Vasquez

Triptych

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It's the rare young jazz innovator who can provoke a probe into ancient history as he's committed to propelling his chosen art form towards a bright future. So let's dig in: in history, a "triptych" is a three-paneled painting found in early Christian art that became a popular standard format for altar paintings from the Middle Ages onward. The image tells a story from left to right. The N.Y.C.-based alto and soprano saxman chose the title Triptych for his debut based on his desire to create songs that tell stories without words and that keep evolving, often in surprising ways. Working with a vibrant ensemble including pianist Aaron Parks, guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist Orlando Le Fleming, and Clarence Penn, Justin Vasquez lets us know we're in for a unique ride by waiting almost two minutes into the opening title track to enter the fray with his alto; up until then, it's Parks' baby, as his percussive piano chordings and guest vocalist Gretchen Parlato's vocalese set a soulful tone for Vasquez's lyrical musings. The expansive piece also features a unique duality between Parks' and Rogers' crisp improvisations, and then a dark, moody interlude. The tone is set -- in Vasquez's world, anything can happen. Another original, "Nimbus," is slightly more conventionally structured, swinging coolly as Vasquez shows off his thoughtful mix of melodic invention and bright improvisations. Moving from the grooving to the oddly impressionistic, the ensemble takes a haunting atmospheric approach to Polish film composer Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation," using a sparse arrangement as the perfect backdrop for Vasquez to strut his gentle soprano stuff. They pick up the pace on the easy swinging, high-spirited, Americana-vibing "Fields," which won the ASCAP Jazz Composers Award. It's all cool swinging from there as "One & Only" pays delicate tribute to the late Kenny Kirkland, one of Vasquez's major influences; "Red. Green. Blue" combines impressionistic sax and piano hypnosis with Gregoire Maret's Toots Thielemans-like harmonica grace; and Vasquez leads his crew through a boppin' roll for "Stella by Starlight." Triptych is just the beginning of the saxman's solo journey, and he's already committed to continuing his concept with subsequent projects tentatively titled "Triptych II" and "Triptych III".

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