Sophia Marshall – Bye Bye (Independent, 2017)

Sophia Marshall has quickly become one of my favorite singers around, with a folk-country-rock sound that is magical, sporting touches of wild bluegrass. She has a mind for heavy lyrics, and her blueberry-wine voice makes me think of some American country singer: deep, mellifluous, and lyrical and hard, like sparkling diamonds.

A Leicestershire, England native, you would hardly know she was English, even less so than The Rolling Stones, because she has so much mastered the American country folk rock sound, with touches of Rolling Stones rock, and even some Beatles, subtly and strategically placed here and there to round out the beginning and endings of songs.

She could fit easily into the new contemporary country field, but her sound is at once more original and classically imbued with the past. She would fit easily with a category of Maria Muldaur and Linda Ronstadt. She is also a fine guitarist, with a sweet honey strum. She is bound to rise higher, as a new superstar, as the stars rise at night over a Nashville, Tennessee sky.

 

Marka (Fiction)

Marka just had to go on. Somewhere deep inside, she was climbing the big rocks of a steep mountain, and the rocks kept getting bigger. She knew she was reaching something – her signals told her that – some big dark blue sky, and she was reaching it, she was reaching it with her strength, which was all the strength she had, a woman’s strength, and it was hers.

The power came from inside her. And she knew it was there. It was there as sure as the big mountain in front of her, which wasn’t really there, it was just inside her. But she kept climbing, climbing inside her mind. It was glorious and magnificent. She reached it; she reached the sky.

It took her most of her life to reach it. From when she was a girl, she was always climbing. It made her what she was. She climbed trees in her backyard, just like a boy. She climbed inside of the attic, to find her mother’s clothes, and put them on and wear them. She felt like such a mature woman when she did this – the dresses and lacy underwear, the stylish, fashionable coats of another decade – she felt magically placed the evening parties of her mother’s days.

As a child she dreamed she would find a robin’s nest, and she would keep the eggs as souvenirs. The tiny, speckled, light blue eggs were magical to her and once, she dreamed she had climbed a tree and found a nest, and the mother robin bit her with her yellow beak when she got there.

She would dream of climbing the highest tree, and reaching the very top, where the branches grew slight and thin.  She was never scared of falling out of trees, but she did have some short falls that put the wind out of her. it was the usually the same pine trees in her backyard, in the suburbs of an old city.

Her whole life was a climb of sorts, with odd jobs and careers that didn’t work out, her wish and aspiration to be a teacher, for which she had such enthusiasm, but which never went very far. She tutored those in need, a diverse population, which was one of the most gratifying things in her life. She had a wonderful knowledge of literature, and she helped the students reach the level that she had. She pulled deep into herself, and she found she loved her student, who looked up to her like a heroine.

She would climb when she read at night – deep philosophy, modern, international novels from around the world. She liked the English and Japanese best, with their polished, surreal and psychological feeling. She liked books on music, and she had much, which she read with passion.

She climbed the walls of the long, winding halls of her memory when she wrote poetry. The straight girls who rebuffed her because she was a lesbian, and they didn’t understand lesbians. Many of them found her attractive and pretty, and sexually appealing.

She pulled out a piece of paper and started writing some lines of verse. This is when the bucks of memory began. She would go back so many years and get stuck in her tangled history. With this came the perception and the focus, as if she had exposed a camera lens for an extended period of time, so her poetry was really vivid and intense.

Poetry could make her break. It made her gasp for sure things, when everything around her was hazy and incorporeal and vague. She would write to work out her problems, but sometimes the problems became multiplied. But the process was an achievement. She was climbing, reaching the highest level, finding herself, in all of what that meant. Which meant everything to her, for it was all that she could do, and she had done it.

Marka had written so much poetry she felt she was making food for people no one could ever eat it. This had to be enough. She wished to find a point where she could end, and she would be rewarded for what she had done, and she could just rest on her laurels. But it was an everlasting process. Even if she stopped writing, there was the will to go on, until the very end. She just kept on writing.

Writing was an exhilaration for her. It kept her sane, but it was an endless battle, with the same things that made her healthy making her helpless and causing her to be subsumed under a wave of helplessness. But writing gave her wisdom. Poetry had been kept her inside, banging against the walls of the cell. Poetry was condensed language. It was packing the ball tighter and tighter. It was polishing glass. It was mirrors reflecting light, reflecting mirrors. It was fabulous and fascinating, but draining and exhausting. She felt if she could just escape it, she could live on, taking life on a transcendent level.

But she went on with her writing – the stories and memories and essays, where she traced her methods and process, and the life that led her to that process. It was fiction, which meant putting her life on a subjective level, something she could push back and take perceptually.

Marka looked at herself, she looked at herself in the mirror. But it was the reminiscence of a mirror, even if it was the same mirror that she had looked in this morning. She peered at her lovely face. She was happy with her face. She was shapely and comely, and even pretty. She wished she could just live life for glamour and to have her body, to be an icon of love, and be famous. But being famous meant facing other people, mixing with large crowds which meant letting go of her private life. But it could also mean rising above this and looking above it, experiencing it at a removed level where she could choose whom to be with; other intelligent, glamorous people.

She felt her writing had to lead to something better. It could not be its own reward. It was a huge, great sacrifice. She would find that thing, if it was finding glamour, or fame, or the fascination with her own body that led to the mystery of being a woman.

Marka looked forward to the next day. It would be sunny and warm. This May had been cold so far, or at least quite cool by usual standards. She could wear her favorite red summer dress. She also had a leopard-patterned and a black dress she liked. And she had the AOC and Ilhan Omar t-shirts she could wear with a black denim dress.

Writing poetry had opened up her feelings about herself as a subjective woman and helped her self-actualize. Choice and decision were so much a part of it, just as it was with clothing. And poetry really was a kind of clothing, even of the body. Clothing made you appear more naked, for it is when we express ourselves that we reveal ourselves most, in the language we use to talk about our lives.

Marka was not afraid of appearing naked. She loved her body. She had always felt that she was not strong. But she was strong, it was a woman’s strength. Her body and her mind were aligned, as she learned and practiced what she was taught in yoga. What strengthened her body strengthened her mind. What gave her health gave her peace.

She knew the basic happiness of the body came from the routine of the day, even if it was just regular cooking and housekeeping, and hygiene. Her poetry disrupted this, when it became particularly intense. But when she had written hard, she could look at her self-care and domestic tasks as axiomatic and an extension of that study, and the process became reflexive, with the body and mind aligned.

Early on, when she was eighteen, Marka climbed out of a deep hole. The hole made her feel very dirty and alone. She kept slipping down the muddy sides and falling into a dirty pool. It broke her. The whole rest of her life had consisted in rebuildiing the lost grace, and the strength which she had never really developed, since she was so young. But it turned her into an artist. Marka arrived late as a full-blown poet, but the blooming had been dramatic, and beautiful, and forceful with quick speed, though it was as slow as her life.

And she was glad she had passed her life slowly.  It was the converse of the speed of her poetry. There was so much she could look back on in her career as a poet. With her practice, she mined the ditches of her memory, but looking back on the whole of her past as a poet took her to a another level, a meta level, on which she could see herself, the whole person, but attached to herself, safe in the arms of her body, climbing with her mind while her body was free. She could climb deep in her mind, opening up the doors to her new self, the new self she was always becoming.

The new self she was always becoming as she climbed, higher and higher, into the sky, which would accept her as the woman she was, the woman poet dreaming of climbing into the sky, into herself, she who made a life of becoming a better person. A better person and a better woman, a woman that loved, but watched each step she was taking up the tower she had found in the country, to look out over it, and see what she had done, for this was her country, the country of a woman who could say anything she wanted, because it would be right. Because she lived right, Marka lived right, and she kept on living.

To Be a Transgender Woman (Fiction)

To be a transgender woman: because it is something I know about – yes. The story of my woman’s life, my transgender woman’s life, the story of any transgender woman’s life, not just my life, not just any transgender woman’s life, any life, any person’s life, any vegetable or mammal life – or of rocks and stones, the song of death… and it goes on easily from here, as life goes on easy, when you have accepted yourself, for who you are.

Not to undertake such a daunting task – it is not what I desire to do, what I wish to push upon the world, to push my transgender body upon the world that rejects us in so many ways, transgender women. To write a work that you could call fiction, a kind of fiction, in a literary genre. “Genres shall not be mixed,” Jacques Derrida wrote, when he explicitly intended to mix genres. I intend to mix genres – and I intend to mix genders.

She is hip, because she is a DJ. Spinning the latest hits at the disco, in her tight glittery dress, her nicely shaped, voluptuous breasts implanted surgically five months ago. It was painful, this process, as the new mammary glands healed, but she enjoyed the process, this new burgeoning body of womanhood, “which made me what I am,” she said. She was joking, but she was really telling the truth: it made her feel like a woman, which made her a woman, because that is what being a woman is.

Madonna and acid jazz, Paul Oakenfold trance, Paul Van Dyk, Armin van Buuren – all the cool stuff from the techno and electronic scenes. She knew it all – where the technicians came from, what made them tick, what made their music art. And she thought of it as such, though it was just fine disco to dance to, and she loved to dance, to feel her fine body moving on the dance floor, shaking her butt and breasts and hips in her tight glittering gown.

She had been assigned to have GRS the next summer. But it was delayed because of COVID-19. This almost broke her heart. It was a kind of trauma, because it was one that only women would understand: how crucial their body image is to them. She desperately wanted a vagina – they were nicely made by these surgeons – real Oreos, she said.

Kassandra cued the next disco song on the Technics turntable, she picked up a glass of rose wine. She had chosen it over the cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitans gave her a headache, though she loved the taste. The song was dry, a dry white-wine minimalist techno, with a blitzing heavy dance beat. It gave her anxiety, though it gave her energy. She thought about how hard it had been for her body to transition – and for her to transition, as a transgender woman.

People had accepted Kassandra, but the people she knew looked at her differently. She had a high, soft woman’s voice so the people who met her or didn’t know her just assumed she was a cis woman, which was nice, but she wondered if she felt pretty, if people thought she was pretty. “Do you think I’m pretty?” she asked. “is it all right for me to say?” I asked. “Of course,” she said. “Well, yes.” I answered. She said, “Aw, thanks.” I felt I had been attracted to her, and I liked her body, and how her easy disposition had fit so neatly into her personality of love and kind passion. I even asked her for a date to peruse tops and skirts and dresses at the local Goodwill, but I didn’t present it as a date.

People sometimes ask me if I would date other transgender women. I would. I am attracted to them. I like the mix of sexes and genders, it is a sexual thrill for me, the daring of a moment’s surrender to another body – it gives me dreams, and I wake up from them, satisfied and happy.

I always dreamed of being a goddess, dancing in the ballroom light of a late-night nightclub, with my breasts tight in my full lace brassiere, my body in the night. But I can’t really dance. Maybe Kassandra will show me, in some dream I conjure of her, together in the night with me, just dancing, just dancing free. It is nice to imagine her there in my home, when I am away, when she feeds my cat.

So that’s my story, the private story of a transgender woman in public.  She loves being this woman she is, that she was becoming, ever since she was born. If you want to know what my birth certificate says, you will have to read my mind. My mind of transgender woman, of a child growing up to be a woman in a men’s world, and to change that world so that it loves women, transgender women.

  • May 26, 2020

 

Her Dreams of Having a Baby (Fiction)

She could already feel it in her womb, the child, the baby that was to become her life, the ache of her pride, as she rose up and dreamed, that she was having a baby, a child that would be hers. The child she had dreamed of, that was deep inside her womb, just a seed now from a man, but a germinating seed of nature. She was a garden. Her body was a garden of love. And she felt the seed grow, into a plant into a tree, into a flower, and the flower was hers, her love, her baby, her child. It was only a flower, but it was her baby.

It was the flower that came to her, the flower that came from her body, as the froth on the ocean waves comes from the sea. and her body was a sea, her body was the ocean. The ocean spewing up shells, quahogs and oysters and scallops, and she was Aphrodite riding on a scallop shell in the sea. As the womb grew with the power of her woman’s body, she wept, and she laughed, and she cried. She grimaced with the anger she felt, at the suppression of her body, all her body couldn’t feel when it was boxed in, and she felt no light, and she was entrapped as a bee in a mason jar, in the dark of a dark basement, her body writhing and tight in a memory of a broken heart and mind. But this was she, and she had healed, and she was growing like the flower she was having, that she would hold in her hands.

Then the baby came, the flower came. And the baby laughed and smiled. Her laughter was her speech, the language of a child. And the child spoke as the flower spoke, with her laughter, and the mother understood. It was her name. And her heart bloomed. It was a flower. Its petals were soft and fragrant, and white. And her body closed at night, and it opened in the morning, and the baby’s eyes and laughter were there to greet her. The baby was a sparkling, resplendent gem, with many facets and crystals which had the structure of infinite joy.

The baby nursed her breasts, beneath the cups of her bra. She never felt so joyful and wonderful naked. This was the naked being of a woman in love with her own child, and body the child fed on. She could hear the baby’s deep speech. Already it was burgeoning, this speech of that came from a baby’s mouth. Just cooing and humming and gargling but it had the measure lyric poetry. And the baby’s mind was poetry to her, this gentle mind, as the hum of bees out of the cells of their honey hive; and the baby’s breath smelled like honey – honey that was gathered from her own breasts, from her own from her own body, from her own womb. For she was a flower. Her baby had made her a flower, her body had made her a flower.

She spoke at night to the baby, and the baby slept. And she watched her sleep, the soft eyelids shut over her cloudy eyes, and the baby dreamed, and she knew her dreams, for they were her dreams of having a baby.

Yoko Miwa Trio: Keep Talkin’ (Ocean Blue Tear Music)

gsdzwbu1ToSbGlMkYTvMtwYoko Miwa is a light, bluesy stylist, with a heavy soul, whose bop/swing/flash style evokes Keith Jarret and Bud Powell as much as Bill Evans, to whom she has often been compared. Keep Talkin’, her new album in a string of four major music statements, starting with 2011’s Live at Scullers (Jazz Cat Amnesty Records), is bright and happy, as suggested by the colorful balloons in the background of her lovely profile on its cover. With Scott Goulding on drums, Will Slater on bass (with a guest appearance by Brad Barrett). it is glossy and glassy and strong, with orchestral overtones produced by the trio capable of a much larger sound than their minimalist disposition would imply.

The songs have a great geography, with the Latin flavored Miwa original title track opening the record with a deep blues feel belying the Bossa beat, followed by the Thelonious Monk number “In Walked Bud”, which she revisits from an earlier album, 2007’s The Day We Said Goodbye (Sunshine Digital), with a brand new, intriguing structure starting with a solo bass, and a complex dialogue which started to become patent in her last album, Pathways (Ocean Blue Tear, 2017).

“Secret Rendezvous”, another original, is lush, grand and understated, building and receding, a picturesque ocean beach tide. Charles Mingus’s “Boogie Stomp Shuffle” is a favorite set closer for her. She plucks itchy, staccato chords, with glissandi, creating contrapuntal and shadowy drama. Miwa alway includes song by The Beatles. “Golden Slumbers/You Never Give Me Your Money” is the one she plays here, which she revisits from The Day We Said Goodbye, but she treats it in much the same way, so it’s a disappointment that she didn’t change it.

It does work well in the large context of the album, though, segueing into a more emotional, romantic tone towards the second half, with another stunning original, “Tone Portrait”, and the heartbreaking “Casa Pre-Fabricada”, by Marcelo Camelo, which has haunting arches and architraves, and soft pastel shades, with fascinating cymbal work by Goulding at the end. Goulding also makes Joni Mitchell’s “Conversation” a strong rocker, reflective and pensive, keeping Mitchell’s original flavor, but sounding so Yoko. This has one of the best piano solos on the album, simple and subtle, cutting down on the usual number of notes she uses, with repeated one-note patterns and exuberant crescendos.

The album has a great shape, highly conceived as one form as a whole, rather than simply a sequence of one song after another. This is one of the most satisfying things about it, as it moves steadily in one direction, toward a climax. “If You’re Blue” is the cheery penultimate number, another Miwa original, soft and light, like holding an orange in your hand. “Sunshine Follows Rain” is the closing song, another Miwa original, opening with Barrett’s arco bass. Barrett is featured in a large way in this song, which floats at a glacial pace, with glistening, icy sparkles, but warm arpeggios and a reassuring resolution, softly setting down the vast panorama beside you.

Hiro Honshuku, A-No-Ne Christmas – Ryles, 12/13/17

Hiro Honshuku

For his band tonight at Ryles in Cambridge, flutist Hiro Honshuku features Latin and jazz renditions of Christmas songs. This is a septet, with Yuka Kido, also on flute, Helio Alvez, on piano, Mauricio Andrade, on guitar, Fernando Huergo, on bass, Guillermo Nojechowicz, on drums, and guest Rika Ikeda on violin.

The songs have sparkle, and the sultry feel of a warm climate. “The Little Drummer Boy” has nothing of the pathos of usual versions, but is quick with changes and drive. Kido rolls out hard, modal flutters, and Alvez is grand, with glassy arpeggios. “It Came upon a Winter’s Night” is soft and caressing and reflective, Honshuku leading with a blue-note inflected solo, which Kido continues with the dark tints of stained glass. The two flutists move in counterpoint to conclude the song, returning subtly and seamlessly to the melody.

Honshuku showcases three versions of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”, and the third is fast paced and restless, but alive with washes and flashes. Kido solos, with sharp, strong intervals, then Andrade, with dark romance on guitar; and Honshuku and Ikeda duo with fury, lashing and sparking. There is a brief coda after the return to melody which is a like a celebration of confetti, each artist splitting away and apart, and showering as one again together.

Honshuku is a sharp, acute, complex, and gentle player, with great fusion of the styles with which he works. Each musician is balanced nicely and uniquely under his direction. It is hard to direct a septet and make room for so many shifting voices, but he does it. It is also especially difficult to do a Christmas show and still give it the feel of inventive jazz. Honshuku achieves this balance, so you always feel as if you are hearing new songs, however warm and familiar they are.

Especially with “Greensleeves”, trademarked by Coltrane in the ‘60s, The septet creates a practically new song out of it, dipping and swooping and swirling. You don’t pin it down until the end.

Honshuku plays EMV, an electronic wind instrument, as the show closes, for “Gloria”, so funky it’s irreverent. Then he picks up piccolo for”Silent Night” backed with a solid, hard rock guitar riff. This is definitely a spiritual experience, but it changes the meaning of church, and gives a jolt to the holidays.

TRIcrhO – Lily Pad – 11/5/17

Tricrho 11:5:17

Eriko Yamaki Mercure is an elegantly eclectic pianist, drawing from classical studies in Tokyo, and jazz at Berklee College of Music. She has a sense of architecture, and play, so her music is a fun, slowly moving series of structures with a quick pace. All the songs she plays are originals, and they have romance and pathos, and they are lively, with forays into far and near places. She is in touch with the whole jazz palette. She is always unexpected, and always rewarding.

“Friends From Afar” starts with a rubato solo, with touches of Schubert, then abruptly goes into heavy swing, with drummer Mark Fairweather dropping rapid, syncopated bombs. Then it’s a plane of relaxed tempo pastel trio interplay, with strong, subtle backing from electric bassist Dave Mercure, who bows and draws his notes out long, to presage a great crescendo from Yamaki Mercure, which ends the song.

Oboist Joel Bard, and clarinetist Stephanie Clark, join the trio for their next number, “Morningside Heights.” The winds play a baroque duet before the trio comes in with a Latin beat. Here we get to see Yamaki Mercure as an accompanist, as she patiently accents the melodious, lyrical harmonies of clarinet and oboe, then adds a peppery spice to Mercure’s funky stops on bass. Her solo is delightful. Complex but limpid, sparkling, glistening.

“Get Well” is s gentle ballad, with jumps into racy interplay, and slips into reflective, soft explorations of mood. “Red Sox”, which the trio has played before, goes well with the winds, which work in different direction than the song, which has a modern but extroverted feel, complex chord structures with stride-like licks. But Clark on clarinet shifts her tone, giving it a brassy feel, and Bard’s oboe is very beautiful, sustaining the liquid sonorities of the conservatory.

It’s the trio by itself on “9 O’clock,” which has the intricate, mechanical feel of the inner workings of a clock. The tempo undulates, as usual, so it is never easy to pinpoint exactly the tone of any of the ensemble’s songs. They can have a sense of rush, exuberance, humor, as this one does, all at once. But Yamaki Mercure always goes very deep in her playing, so there is always the sense of reaching an inner core, and a drive.

“Sometime” is another number with a Latin feel, this one very dark and romantic, with stretches of open sky which the winds evoke. There are touches of all phases of jazz in this one, as in all of the songs, and it has the feel of going many places at once, like a Miro.

Yoko Miwa Trio, Thelonious Monkfish, 6/23/17

Yoko Miwa Trio 6:23

Opening up the summer with her music hitting 24 on national jazz radio charts, Yoko plays an upbeat swing number with bluesy chords, and lots of percussion from Scott Goulding. She’s heading up into the sky. She’s playing lines that walk above the bass, and leap and hop. Happy, short sashays into nowhere, chops on the keyboard which lead to a sparkling, abrupt end.

Segueing into a light ballad, she turns slow glissandi like thoughts reconsidered, and reconsidered again. On arco bass, Brad Barrett takes to these with speculation, putting her whispers into words. Then she is back, with more strength, grandeur, with conclusive pinpoints and intricate, eloquent elaborations, with an effervescent finish.

Next is a bluesy number, with stride suggestions, Barrett emphatic, with heavy, thumping thuds, Goulding with brushwork on the snare, and cymbal taps. The stride gets bright and heavy, with ruminative, soft culminations. She is blocking with her left hand, turning note cycles with her right, and this dialogue with herself ends with a scream, both left and right hands coming together, glittering, and loud.

Next is a modal, modern Latin number, both pensive and festive. As she can carry on dialogues with left and right hands, she can express concurrent emotions with her playing, working and balancing out the feelings in her head. This one even gets funky, with kind of a hiphop beat, and breaks into rock mode for a while, before rising to another level of Latin scuffling and shuffling. She is so multifaceted here. She goes in doors, opens up new ones, closes ones behind her. She enters new worlds, the bright sun shining; then she is in the shade of gray clouds.

Yoko shows no signs of stopping her evolution of her visions of the trio. With each year, with each new record, she shows more that can be done with it, within these short confines, developing panoramas and spectacles you would have expected could only come from a larger unit. She keeps refining, revising, and retuning her language, sharing it with her drummer and bassist, and expanding its vocabulary, so there is endless topic of which to speak.

Pathways, Yoko Miwa, Ocean Blue Tear Music (2017)

Yoko Miwa, Pathways

Yoko has achieved an outstanding place in music, climbing the reaches of fine, straight, tasteful mainstream jazz, in the New England and New York area, as well as the rest of the East Coast, and Japan. She has made seven albums now, with her own songs, many jazz songbook standards, and stunning, creative renditions of sixties’ and seventies’ pop songs.

There are two of these on her new CD, Pathways, Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark”, and Lennon’s “Dear Prudence”, from the 1968 Beatles White Album (The Beatles). In addition, there are two numbers from Marc Johnson, a prime bassist with Bill Evans, and four originals. Yoko goes to many places in her albums, hard hitting modal, spicy Latin, dark, mysterious romance, and heartbreaking ballads.

These are in display here, but what makes her new album remarkable, and remarkably innovative, is the racing, playful interplay of the instruments of the trio: drums, piano, and bass. Each has an equal part, with none dominating, but sharing, democratically, endless, intriguing dialogues. Yoko has become an even more fabulous listener, responding with aplomb to the sonic statements of bass and drums, weaving them together, and taking them to new places.

Yoko has always been a grand pianist, playing in the grand style, but here she is often coming into the background, though still prancing back as a stark, beautiful presence, like the sketched trees or people of a snowy Asian mountain-scape. She still has a Japanese humility, but she has become a world, global jazz figure, standing with the best pianists of her age, or any age.

Pathways opens with Marc Johnson’s “Log O’Rhythm”, rhythmic, peppery, and fun. Yoko’s “Lickety Split”, which follows, is bright, and festive; “Court and Spark” starts slow and mellow, and then works deeper into introspective exploration, like swimming in dark night cave waters. Her “Lantern Light” is classic Yoko: grand, elegant, romantic, plaintive, questioning, open-ended, endless. Closing with “Dear Prudence”, she takes this number to a new level, with shifting planes of lightness and darkness, getting heavy and light in turn, relentlessly reaching into its inner source, the source of The Beatles, the source of music.

The Port of Life – Jean John (RTV SLO, 2016)

the-port-of-life

The Port of Life
Jean John
RTV SLO (2016)

The Port of Life is the new CD by Jean John (born Zan Tetickovic), Slovenian born composer and drummer, which has already won Album of the Year from Slovenia’s major music publication, JazzEtna.

Somehow this record makes me think of another concept album, Herbie Hancock’s 1969 The Prisoner. It’s got big washes of brass, waves of modal piano, cinematic strings. It recounts the immigrant’s experience, Jean John’s own, having moved to New York City in 2011 – and the worldwide immigration crisis at large. It is expansive, dramatic, and understated.

You can hear flashes of McCoy Tyner’s large ensemble work, Count Basie’s surging songs from the ’50s (as in an album like Atomic Basie), lots of Mingus, with the complex time shifts and juxtapositions of old and new. John has a great command of music history. Even the classical undertones are considered, bringing to mind, for one, Schubert.

There is a sound clip midway from President Obama saying how we are all immigrants and this should be repeated often and frequently. We can all relate to this, even in our own present lives, if it’s something as simple as moving to a neighborhood very different from the one where we grew up. The Port of Life reflects on and reflects this, with a perspective and a sound which is universal.

John is a silent drummer, I could almost say. If you listen carefully, you can hear the complexity and subtlety of his rolls and dynamics, but he uses his set almost as a conductor for this largely orchestral work which, for all that is, through and through, from beginning to end, saturated with and representative of the best of classic jazz.