Though he now lives and performs in New York City, Darius Jones started in Richmond, Virginia. Jones would charter the Chinatown bus from Richmond to Chinatown in NYC for gigs before he moved there. Initially he grew up on a farm in Virginia, and this farm is the basis for Jones’ debut album, Man’ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing). He calls this release his “sonic tone poem about me and my life growing up in the South”. At times disjointed, other times swinging, and others with a laid back funk groove, the album reflects the patchwork quilt of influences on Jones as a child.
Known for his unusual and experimental projects, Jones has produced jazz vocalist Sunny Kim’s psychedelic screaming record and played with Trevor Dunn (bassist, Mr. Bungle) in an outfit called Big Girl. In his debut as bandleader, the alto saxophonist/composer tapped trusted advisors Cooper-Moore (piano and diddley-bo) and Rakalam Bob Moses (drums). Jones currently plays in the Cooper-Moore Trio, which he has done for four years running. The title suggests a reference to Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy”, which was marked by a repeating stop-time figure on one chord. It is sometimes attributed to Bo Diddley, which may or may not be the reason for the inclusion of the diddley-bo.
The album begins with a brief piece followed by “Cry Out”, a richly dark-toned saxophone opening meandering until piano, drums, and diddley-bo join in for a fresh take on swing. Jones keeps crying and blowing, seemingly directionless but ultimately with very precise, intentional notes. The album can feel cluttered and abstract at the best of times, and other times jarring and jumbled.
There are sonic hints of Jones’ life strewn throughout the album. The striations of reggae are to honor his father’s Jamaican roots. There are hints at the vocal music from his church, his uncle’s saxophone playing, and a slew of radio influences, from funk and pop to classical and classic rock. To point these influences out in the music might be harder than one would expect.
The cover art is a three-piece commission by Randal Wilcox entitled “Portrait of a Man’ish Boy”. The psychedelic man with three faces is at the same time both asleep and awake, with one of the fingers outstretched with the word “LISTEN” written on it. Rihanna’s famous “Shh” tattoo on the side of her finger comes to mind.
The final piece is an epic beautiful selection that begins with Cooper-Moore on solo piano. His beautiful, haunting line softens the room and every jumbled part of the record before this point. Jones enters with a sweet, gentle melody that is equally mysterious. He almost pleads with us to take him back; he didn’t mean it. Come on, it’s okay. Let’s let our guard down and let Jones lead us wherever he wants. Moses hits in the empty spaces a quick succession of beats, sporadically and naturally.
The bonus track, “Chyach”, is about as funky as James Brown could imagine, yet laid back enough for the heppest cat. And why the track appears as a bonus and not as an integral part of the record boggles the mind. Thank you, though, Darius Jones, for those ten minutes of badass sax, drums, and bass.