Sean Jones is another of the trumpeters who have been coming up in New Orleans in recent years, like an amazing player who suddenly turned up on a British TV news item about Katrina. I’m not trying to boost New Orleans’ tourism, either by going there or by encouraging anybody better placed to do so, but when the Anglo-Irish trumpeter Val Cunningham told me a few years back that he’d found good jazz in many places there, I wondered what it could be. So here is one answer, at least: only on the opener is Jones alone. “Jesus loves me, this I know / for the Bible tells me so” are the words I remember to the tune Jones delivers unaccompanied, before working a little on the harmonies, almost in a segue into “Roots”.
That is a quintet number: trumpet and soprano sax (Tia Fuller), Orrin Evans—doing sanctified left hand things the veteran Ray Bryant learned on church piano— Luque Curtis on bass (the one member of the band I’d previously encountered); and the drums of Obed Calvaire. I wondered whether there maybe wasn’t a dose of sentimentalism in that one (see my conclusion). “Roots” follows up the precedent of a more ballad-like gospel music, with shifts in rhythmic profile. Ballad playing at its most (can’t think of the word: exemplary?) is what Jones does on “Divine Inspiration”, a quartet track on which Evans takes the easy way out toward the impressionistic and scintillating (so much more inspiring when somebody achieves the same results on acoustic piano). Curtis has a nice solid bass sound, and his solo is all the better for Evans continuing at the same level established in his outing.
The founder of the Salvation Army said something about the Devil having all the good tunes, and if he’d lived to have an understanding of jazz and R&B from the late 1940s onward—not that he would have allowed himself the time—he’d have observed that not exactly the Devil, but certainly some human beings with African ancestors were drawing on the music of their church(es) for secular purposes. Forget where the churches got that music, the titles on this CD won’t inhibit awareness of the church origins of some of this stuff: like “God’s Gift”, with a forceful rhythm section and Jones’ fluent solo at least matched by Fuller’s digging in on alto. Ellington’s “Come Sunday” with piano, bass and drums, manifests the beautiful flow of Jones’ playing, and his sound. The subsequent tune called “Lift Every Voice” attains fire, passion and conflict.
Just to remind the listener of the sheer beauty of Jones’ sound, or the flash of burnished gold, “Offering Time” pops up with rapid brilliance, featuring Eddie Howard on organ and Jerome Jennings (as on another four tracks) on the drum-stool. “Conversations” goes back to the quintet; Evans, whatever precise equipment is in front of him, fluting a solo on (in effect) electronic mini-calliope. Another quartet fluegelhorn ballad in “El Soul”, and maybe the sweet climax of Sunday dinner in “Puddin’ Time”, with that 1950s Hallelujah background and some Louis Armstrongisms in Jones’s solo. Since his playing really isn’t out of Armstrong, but in a long line passing through Roy Eldridge and the jazz trumpet style which didn’t begin in New Orleans, Jones produces some exciting noises of musical strain. Fuller produces some jump alto, a nice New Orleans commodity (Cap Handy of blessed memory to far too few) obscured by halfwits who assumed old original New Orleans jazz exclusively of the clarinet.
I’d missed noting that “What We Have” is the next title, and maybe it’s Thanksgiving for the Puddin’. Maybe it could have been grace said before the Puddin’? Fuller is kneeling with Jones in expression of gratitude toward the end here.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Thus the Text of “John, 3, 16”, the reference to the fourth gospel of which is the title of this CD’s penultimate number. Jennings drums well, Howard plays organ and solos as if using forearms to produce oceanic swell. This item is another sanctified ballad, and finally one supposes that the appeal of the entire set cannot but depend, not on sheer musical quality, but on how far the listener can remain attuned to what—for all the blurb’s references to the “dance hall” and the “night clubs of New Orleans” —never really gets down to suggesting either. Unlike a fairly recent (and stiff) set by Charnett Moffett, this is as much jazz as it is religion. Eddie Howard plays piano on the closer, just himself and Jones, and Howard delivers a proliferation of flourishes and gospel cadenzas coming between the intro and theme statement and the concluding trumpet statement. I’m still wondering whether Roots wasn’t on the sentimental side, and have to confess that I did feel there was a little of the repetition against which the Good Book counsels. The angels, according to Karl Barth, play Bach when playing for God; and when playing for themselves they play Mozart, and God eavesdrops. Here, I sometimes, only sometimes, felt I was being asked to listen in on another guy’s prayers.