Darius Jones Quartet - "The Enjoli Moon" (Book of Mae'bul (Another Kind of Sunrise))
Book of Mæ’Bul, the most recent offering by Darius Jones as bandleader, surprises in a number of ways, but it’s also his most mature. One can drown in the album’s opening piano notes — I haven’t heard sustain and space quite like it since Tyshawn Sorey’s debut, That/Not. Each note’s long fade also conjures shades of the first Weather Report disc, but the allusion suddenly disappears as Jones’s “The Enjoli Moon” slides into focus. As with the rest of the compositions on offer, its heart-on-sleeve eloquence is also deceptively simple. Andrew Hill’s 2000 comeback, Dusk, may be the closest point of comparison; each head provides a springboard for improvisations that balance abstraction and complexity with stunning rhythmic cohesion.
The band is excellent. Jones’s alto is complemented by pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Ches Smith, three of the reedsmen’s most sympathetic partners. Again, Hill’s ever adventurous group interplay is a model here, as is Miles Davis’s second quintet, around the time of ESP, but the ensuing years and advancement of improvisational techniques ensure a new fluidity. The quartet can run with the syncopations embedded in a slinky loafer like “The Fagley Blues” and take it to all sorts of unimagined places. For Mitchell, Dunn and Smith to venture out is no surprise, but to hear them reconverge, as they do time and time again, is satisfying on many levels. Smith’s contributions, in particular, are imbued with new color and timbral innovation, and his new-found freedoms, typified by cymbal sizzles and unpredictably punchy accents, make him a drummer to watch very closely.
Jones’s own playing has also matured, now living somewhere between the full-bodied command of Wayne Shorter and Jan Garbarek’s pungent upper registers. “Winky” finds him in Puckish post-bop mode, certain strategic notes nevertheless bursting at the seams with New Thing squawk. The rhythms he lays down also keep threatening to overstep their bounds, each solo a study in controlled ecstasy.
With so much great playing and boundless energy afoot, why was the decision made to truncate the seriously heavy “Roosevelt,” an older Jones composition revamped for the occasion? In some ways, the track’s conclusion involves the freest playing on the disc, making its slow fade all the more frustrating, despite an impassioned solo from Smith. Grumbling aside, this invigorating quartet date walks the line between exploration and accessibility that most musicians are afraid — or unable — to touch.