A fresh, comforting, and spirited mesh of blues, gospel and jazz from a truly gifted musician and vocalist. Grade: A
I first came across Jamison Ross in February 2015 when taken by a friend to Nell’s Jazz and Blues – an intimate jazz bar in West Kensington, London. With the vocal chops of Donny Hathaway, and the intuitive musicality of Stevie Wonder, Ross stunned me as he sang and played the drums effortlessly. Under the Concord Jazz label, Ross released his debut album Jamison in 2015, receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album. And deservedly so.
Almost three years later, Ross has returned with his sophomore offering All For One which builds upon the spirit and style of his debut. The record begins with Ross’ jovial and looser take on Lee Dorsey’s ‘A Mellow Good Time’. Jittery guitar combines with lively organ, with drums, Ross’ vocals, and keys gradually entering the fray in an explosion of colour and personality. Ross’ infectious energy, enhanced by his brilliant and accomplished band, runs throughout the album on tracks such as the Marvin Gaye-esque ‘Call Me’, the folksy ‘Keep On’, and the uplifting closing track ‘Let’s Sing Again’ (originally from the 1936 film of the same name). It is a case of simple sentiments powerfully expressed.
The success in this regard owes a lot to Ross’ band. Cory Irvin’s command of the organ brings a gospel fervour to the album, while Rick Lollar’s guitar, in Ross’ own terms, ‘[lifts] the spirit of the blues’. Ross’ drums, Chris Pattishall’s piano, and Barry Stephenson’s bass coalesce with the above in arrangements that have both nuance and uninhibited release.
Ross’ vocal performances are treated with the same meticulous precision and expression as the instrumentation. ‘Tears And Questions’, with its haunting acapella intro and Lollar’s evocative guitar, sees Ross communicating melancholy and introspection through adlibs alone without a single lyric. The phrasing on ‘Don’t Go To Strangers’, a cover of the Etta Jones classic, is particularly exquisite. He leans into the buttery richness of his tenor, drops into warm low tones, and punctuates certain lyrics with a light touch. Each vocal decision feels instinctive and Ross inhabits Redd Evans’ wistful and vulnerable lyric in a fresh take on this 1960s classic.
Indeed, All For One has its fair share of vulnerable moments, particularly on the album’s original tracks. On ‘Unspoken’, Ross laments being apart from his wife for work (‘the world looks the same from every hotel room / Four beige walls box me in’), while mirroring this sentiment towards his daughter in the country-flecked ‘Away’.
While the originals are heart-warming, the covers on All For One are Ross’ strongest asset. The title track is a particular highlight. With a cascading arrangement and Bond theme levels of grandeur, Ross and his band throw extra weight behind Willie Tee’s ‘All For One’. ‘You need a love to provide for you / That love you need comes from me’, sings Ross with an almost theatrical authority – eschewing his usually mellow stylings. He pushes himself vocally as he guides the listener to a storming climax.
I look forward to his next visit to Nell’s Jazz and Blues.
(Image Copyright: Concord Jazz)