At the age of 25, alto saxophonist Justin Janer has already raked in a few awards, and played with a bunch of big names (Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Kirk Whalum, Eric Marienthal, Bobby Sanabria). This is his first album as a leader, and though he’s a Puerto Rican who professes a great love for Latin jazz, it’s a pretty straightforward post-bop date, teaming him up with a bunch of people I’ve never heard of—trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Fabian Almazan, guitarist Sebastian Cruz (on one track only), bassist Ruben Samama, and drummers Will Clark and Michael W. Davis (alternating, not at the same time, though that would have been cool).
Following Signs is a pretty relaxed, introspective album. At eight tracks in fifty-four minutes, it says its piece with relative concision and everyone goes on his or her way. Janer’s compositions and playing have a feel I’ve encountered in a lot of East Coast players’ work in recent years; the lines are long and discursive, and the solos are relatively restrained, with only a few short outbursts of overblowing. Basically, it’s the Greg Osby model, and you can hear it in a lot of the musicians who’ve played in Osby’s band (Janer hasn’t, as far as I know) and in the work of many others, as the ripples spread. The trouble is, the melodies he writes aren’t very memorable or hooky the way jazz compositions used to be in the 1950s and early 1960s. They’re structures on which to hang solos and passages of collective improvisation, but they’re not songs. (There’s one outside composition on the disc, a version of the theme from the 1951 movie Alice in Wonderland, but the arrangement doesn’t break from the pattern.)
Still, there’s a lot of talent in this band, and Janer and Akinmusire play off each other very well. Pianist Almazan pounds out some forceful solos, Samama keeps things moving without overplaying, and though it’s as hard to tell the drummers apart as it is to remember what a given piece sounded like once it’s over, the experience of the album as a whole is a pleasant one. Following Signs is, I suspect, a lot like seeing the band live might be, under optimum circumstances; a well-rehearsed, communicative band working through decent original material that still betrays their influences to a degree, without being so derivative that you can close your eyes and picture the bandmembers’ record collections.
1. Do I foresee myself listening to this record again? Maybe, if I spot it when browsing the shelves/scrolling through my hard drive.
2. Should you buy this record? Sure; support young talent. Hell, that’s why I’m writing all these reviews…
Link to purchase, if you’re so inclined…