Chris Monson has astoundingly created a sultry, smoky and languid debut. Each instrument is masterfully played and captured in this timeless collection of jazz originals.
In the first track, “Where the Leaf Has Been,” bandleader Monson takes a backseat, letting the other musicians express themselves, only midway through does the guitar peek through the clouds.
Interplay between instruments on the left and right channels of your headphones/speakers is a superb way to fully envelope and integrate the listener in the musician’s intuitive playing utilized throughout the proceedings. The trumpet takes an impressive, expressive lead, then piano, then saxophone etc. These artists aren’t showing off for the sake of it. They’re simply talented individuals, losing themselves in song.
The overall mood of these first couple songs reminds me of some early live Dave Brubeck recordings. Stuff that I could play for both jazz fanatics and as an introduction to someone who says they don’t know or like jazz. In fact, I’m going to play this album the next time someone claims there’s not good jazz anymore.
“The Passing Through” finally showcases bandleader Chris Monson’s playing abilities front and center. After a few quick flourishes however, he fades to the background again. It’s a snappy, boppin’ tune.
“The Rain Collector” is probably the best condensed example of the album as a whole. Plus, it has my favorite moments of Chris Monson’s subtle electric guitar. Too often I find guitarists think the only way to impress people is how many notes you can play in quick succession. The style usually lacks character or emotion. I’m certain Chris has the chops to do so but, throughout the album, in this song particularly, he shows us how majestic modesty can be.
An acoustic guitar makes a welcome appearance in “Highbrow on the Waterline.” The decision to switch gears at this point, late in the proceedings, is a wonderful palate cleanser for your ears. The gentle, romantic tune stretches the sonic bubble your mind has been in until this point.
“If We Dreamed of Soaring” wraps up the album nicely. Each player has a final opportunity to reveal their talents to the us.
The only missed opportunity for the album is perhaps the cover. While it’s certainly pleasant in appearance and accurate depiction of the songs, it doesn’t quite have the reminiscent or retro vibes and qualities of early 60’s jazz records that the music included has in spades.
Overall, this is was an extremely enjoyable listen. There’s an understated tenacity in these songs. A player arrives in your ears for only enough time to show their beauty, like a monarch butterfly, only to fly away again. There’s little you can do, except enjoy the experience and thank them for your momentary time together. Though brief, it was magical.