The singers are presented mostly in the first section of the album, and once again the results are varied, revealing Jones’ vast curiosity for all things musical. More importantly, Jones has chosen emerging singers whose profiles have not grown to the point where the listening public recognizes their names. But it will. For these are remarkably talented singers whose impact upon recording sessions, or in live concerts, cannot be denied. The combined force of all of this talent on Kaleidoscope gains momentum, from the ethereal dreaminess of "Allison," the first track to the spiritually infused finish by gospel singer Kim Burrell, for a powerful synergistic effect.
Frankly, I am gratified by the well-deserved attention that J.D. Walter is receiving; I have been an enthusiastic supporter of his music ever since he wowed me on one of his earlier CD’s with Dave Liebman and Jim Ridl, Clear Day. Just as energetic and rules-breaking was his 2000 Dreambox Media album with John Swana and Jean-Michel Pilc, Sirens in the C-House, on which the full range of Walter’s artistry was entirely apparent, from his fearless scatting to his harmonically original reworking of standards. (Yes, Walter obviously is unintimidated by fierce, aggressive piano players, including Orrin Evans, when he wishes to be so too.) Both elements of Walter’s style are included in Kaleidoscope as he wordlessly interweaves an additional line of improvisation on "Allison" as Jones carries the relaxing melody of long tones and successive repeats. Later, Walter displays his ability to draw in the listener through his immersion in a song when he presents his own composition, "So Wonderful," consisting of spare lyrics that mesh with the rhythmic accents of the piece. And Walter re-imagines "Never Let Me Go" with intriguing note choices, resolving a line of ad libbing on a sixth for example, or darkening the mood of the song through re-harmonization or stretching phrases over lengths not customarily employed.
Recently signed, Mack Avenue singer Sachal Vasandani appears, though modestly in canonical form responding to Gretchen Parlato, on "It’s Just a Matter of Time." Even though Vasandani’s appearance on Kaleidoscope is in a supporting role, there’s a point to be made that those who decry the paucity of male jazz singers need only to look a little deeper for there are many who are performing under the general public’s radar screen. But Gretchen Parlato! Yet another perceptive choice by Jones, as she, known to New York musicians though without a major album released yet, covers the broad intervals of the song with the same ease and vocal clarity she contributes to the hauntingly beautiful "Journey," which she wrote with drummer Kendrick Scott and recorded on his album, The Source.
The singing continues on Kaleidoscope, though. Jones introduces Carolyn Perteete, whom he met in Pittsburgh, where he lives. Perteete’s choice of material to record on the album is the Kurt Elling song, written to Vince Mendoza’s music, that he recorded on Live in Chicago, "Esperanto." Literate and questioning, halting and understated ("If I die / Where does time go?"), "Esperanto" no doubt conforms to Perteete’s vocal personality while it notes her as a singer who appreciates meaningful material, which she adapts to her own style. And then, with an acknowledgment of the importance of gospel music in his life, as shown on Jones’ previous album, Roots, he includes a powerful singer, Kim Burrell, first on Evans’ "I Come to Three," a stately spiritual testament through which Jones weaves complementary lines, and then to close the album with "You’re the Reason," a syncopated song of praise consisting of rolling eighth notes on piano and catch-you-unawares accents that combine jazz elements with religious strength.
All of which shows Jones’ perceptive choices of singers as he generously uses the occasion of his latest release to provide opportunity for them, as he enjoys participating in the recordings with his own uplifting solos, as on "You’re the Reason" or merging with voice as on "Allison." However, Jones, including as much music as he can within the CD’s 73 minutes, features his own sextet throughout much of the second half of the album, starting with "Say Brah," a forcefully jabbing piece energized by propulsive accompaniment that allows the horns to develop exciting solos that can’t help but rouse listeners. Saxophonist Brian Hogans’ "Blak Music" offers a reminder of much of hard bop work that infused the difficulty of bop lines with the distinctiveness of a percussive drive. And "Kaleidoscope," at medium tempo, provides a harmonically rich texture for expressive solos that reveal the drama contained within the changes, introduced in subdued fashion, through effective use of dynamics, a thrilling rhythm section and a tornadic sense of intensification, particularly on Walter Smith III’s fierce tenor sax solo. Well, this review is long. But Kaleidoscope is one of those CD’s that offers so much content, so many special moments to savor, that a four-sentence review wouldn’t have sufficed. Sean Jones covers a lot of ground in Kaleidoscope, and listeners no doubt will find much to enjoy within the recording.