Darius Jones Trio
Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) (AUM Fidelity)
There’s a cry at the heart of alto saxophonist Darius Jones’ sound. It’s there in the way that he often holds a single note when other improvisers might throw in a flurry of them. It’s there in a certain roughness of tone that peeks through when he pushes his horn hard enough, along with touches of a shallow but firm vibrato. On his 2009 debut, Man’ish Boy (A Raw and Beautiful Thing), it offered the temptation to think of him as some sort of reincarnation of Albert Ayler, a free-jazz savant with uncommonly direct access to his own deepest yawp, a temptation only made stronger by his work with gunslinging free-jazz quartet Little Women. His second album as a leader brings Jones’ sound and approach into sharper focus. It’s not just a cry. It’s his cry.
Man’ish Boy’s idiosyncratic trio of drummer Bob Moses and pianist/diddley-bo player Cooper-Moore pushed Jones’ sound more in line with wild-ass vintage free-jazz almost by default. On Big Gurl (Smell My Dream), bassist Adam Lane and drummer Jason Nazary (the latter a fellow Little Women member) take part in interplay that’s more conventional in all respects, though Jones’ music loses none of its considerable power in the bargain. The title of “Chasing the Ghost” echoes John Coltrane’s classic workout “Chasing the Trane,” and the former offers a prime display of the same sort of hard-charging blowing tune, each player driving the others on. If Jones’ tone hits some of its harshest paroxysms here, they aren’t out of place, and neither are they out of step with the rhythm section’s fourth-gear pulse. A hopscotching, staccato head gives way to overblowing from the leader and arco squeals from Lane on opener “E-Gaz”; elsewhere sinuous, romantic melodies climb the harmonic trellis of “Michele Heart Willie” or animate the heart-piercing (if not pacific) ballad “I Wish I Had a Choice,” hearkening back to an entirely different era of jazz. “A Train” may begin with Jones worrying a simple, nagging refrain like Ayler once did, but his reworking of Billy Strayhorn’s classic tune winds up showing off his own knack for melodic/compositional deconstruction more than his debt to any of his forebearers. This is no crossover move—Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) makes poor background music, if only thanks to the leader’s take-notice tone—but it mos def proves Jones is an original voice in more ways than one.