Bassist Aidan Carroll, originally hailing from Oklahoma City, had a vision when he was 8 years old. “When I was 8 years old, I had a vision and a feeling wash over me in which I knew that I’d be playing music for the rest of my life – it wasn’t so much a choice but a reality of my life to come.” Carroll went on to move to New York to study under the tutelage of John Patitucci earning himself a Master’s degree in Jazz Performance from the City College of New York. Since then, he has performed and recorded with notables Aaron Goldberg, Seamus Blake, Fred Hersch and Melody Gardot, just to name a few.
Supporting Carroll on Original Vision, his debut as a leader set to release March 3rd on Truth Revolution Records and March 10th on Lyte Records, are two distinct rhythm sections. The first features New Orleans born pianist Sullivan Fortner and drummer Joe Dyson. The second rhythm section adds David Bryant on piano and Justin Brown on drums. Rounding out the band is saxophonist John Ellis who plays throughout the album. Saxophonist Ben van Gelder and vocalist Chris Turner bring their unique talents as special guests. “These are the exact musicians I wanted on this project so I consider myself very lucky to have had them all in the same place to create this album with me.”
I got sucked into this album from the very beginning of the meditative “Intro: Reflections” which features bass, drums, keyboard, effects and even singing and then transitions into the dynamic “Overture”, a piece highlighted by the strikingly flowing saxophone of Ellis and the solid drumming of Brown. Let’s note the particularly compelling solos by both Carroll on bass and Bryant on keyboard.
“Overture” is followed by “Shamanistic”, where a joyful little piano intro by Fortner evolves into a powerfully engaging piece as Ellis joins in, supported by the potent drumming of Dyson. Once again, Ellis gives us a stellar performance on tenor but the highlight of the piece remains Fortner’s piano solo.
Then comes “For Now”, a more traditional and swinging song, which nonetheless provides enough uniqueness and nuance to remain relevant to our time, followed by “Apollo Song”, a calm and soothing piece which builds up into an exciting saxophone duel between van Gelder and Ellis.
The black sheep of this album is the single “Sundays” (watch the video clip at the bottom of the post), a soulful and Glasper-esque ballad featuring the sublime vocals of Chris Turner and a subtle and minimalist solo by van Gelder.
For me, the highlight of the album is the following track, “Undiscovered Simplicities”. Carroll describes the song as: “One of the more simple tunes I’ve written harmony and melody wise and the title is about the fact that through so many life situations we often discover these simple answers and nuggets of wisdom. I’ve had some conflict in my life with people and relationships so this song is a sort of answer to all of that.” The song begins with a short bass intro by Carroll which evolves into a driving and inciting vamp as the drums of Brown kick in. The melody is played by both Ellis and van Gelder on saxophones as Bryant on piano emits graceful and floral accompanying notes before taking the first solo, a rhythmic and block chord heavy endeavor. The second solo belongs to van Gelder who wows us with his smooth and technical playing filled with cunning intricacies.
From there on, the album features shorter tracks. “Sull’s Song” is a slow and calming ballad which highlights the beautiful lyricism and sound of Ellis on tenor. “Day Dream” is a moving dialogue between Carroll on bass and Fortner on piano. The piece begins in a very serene and contemporary manner and evolves into a more traditional jazz feel as it lightens up in mood.
Finally, “Katsimbalis” closes out the record (right before the short “Outro: Chants”). The composition comes from a program of music Carroll wrote inspired by Greek mythology and is specifically written after the main character “Katsimbalis” from “The Colossus of Maroussi” by Henry Miller. “Katsimbalis” features a truly intricate and modern head followed by short solos by Carroll, Ellis and Bryant. The song closes with a vamp by the band as Brown solos masterfully on drums.
“Original Vision is a blueprint of my creative process that brings together how I compose, improvise and envision sound. Creating the album was a transformative and cathartic experience that allowed me to present something that was truly my own. I’m proud to be able to bring this vision to life alongside some of my favorite and respected musicians,” says Carroll of the album.
All in all, Original Vision is an astonishing debut by a skillful composer, a thoroughly enjoyable listen which I will put on repeat for a little while. If you’re into straight-ahead modern jazz make sure to check this one out, which I’ve shortlisted on my “Best Albums of 2015”, even though it’s still early in the year. Congratulations Mr. Carroll! We’re already awaiting your next album impatiently.
Sébastien Hélary co-founded Nextbop in 2009 with the objective of introducing modern jazz music to a younger generation of fans. Aside from music, his other main obsession is food, particularly ramen and other Japanese delicacies.