(4 / 5)
You could say that US saxophone man Jared Sims plays with spirt. Or perhaps, more accurately; spirits! Check out the third cut on his gorgeous new album “Change Of Address”, and let me explain….
The track is called “Ghost Guest 1979.” Six minutes and 40 seconds in duration. Like all seven cuts on the instrumental album, his fifth record as leader, Sims plays baritone sax and is joined by the very able skills of Steve Fell on guitar, Nina Ott on organ, Chris Lopes on bass and Jared Seabrook on drums.
The song penned by Sims, was inspired by eerie events which happened to him when he and his New Yorker wife lived in Boston next to a cemetery. He swears he would hear a ghost rustling about overhead when he practiced his instrument alone in his basement office. “Plays with spirit”…….see what I did there?
The album’s title comes from Jared and his wife re-locating to West Virginia after two decades in New England; coming back to West Virginia University where he has taken up the prestigious post as Director of its Jazz Studies department, 20 years after he earned his own jazz studies degree there.
Playing the baritone sax from fifth grade, he recalls the day he took a tenor sax in to his class at the New England Conservatory and got an earful from his tutor, about how he would never be great on it because he would be following in the footsteps of too many legends. For some, that kind of negativity may have ended their playing career and shattered their dreams. Not Jared though.
He took his teacher’s words to heart, realised that harsh comment was accurate and from that day onwards; focused on his baritone playing and found it felt far more natural than the tenor, and how much he loved the bottom-rich sound he could make on it.
He made his recording debut as leader with the trio record “Acoustic Shadows” in 2009, another three-piece line-up on 2011’s “Convergence”, then the quartet album “The New Stablemates” a year later, before “Layers” in 2016; the latter where he overdubbed himself playing saxophones, clarinets and flute on material by Ellington, Monk and Mingus. He is on more than 30 albums crossing several genres, and his studio work has been featured on US and Japanese television and on various video games.
Sims attended his first jazz concert, by Michael Brecker, in tenth grade, and saw the World Saxophone Quartet perform the following year. His fascination with the saxophone went “over the top” after he spoke with members of the WSQ following the show. At NEC, he played clarinet in addition to baritone, alto, and tenor. Sims went on to study for his doctorate in classical music performance at Boston University. The list of artists he has collaborated is an eclectic one and ranges from the late Bob Brookmeyer, Han Bennink, Matt Wilson, Dave Liebman, and Anat Cohen to the Temptations, 10,000 Maniacs, and Oasis’s Noel Gallagher.
Sims plays like a veteran, a life in his lungs blown through that baritone, but he was born in 1974 so he’s still a young man with many years ahead of him on stage and in the recording studio, but already a huge reputation for his skills and what he has achieved thus far. The sparkling work on this record, circa 45 minutes duration, will only add to that reputation.
Recorded in Boston by engineer Craig Welsch. The result is uber-cool, classy and a solid core of funk. The slinky, grooving “Offer for Wilson,” inspired by the complications he and his wife went through in buying their new house, and the pensive, Ornette Coleman/”Lonely Woman”-influenced “Leap of Faith,” is about “making a big decision and sticking to it.” “Seeds of Shihab,” is his tribute to baritone saxophone great Sahib Shihab, and luxuriates in the brawny, bottom-rich sound of the instrument. “Forest Hills,” is inspired by the Boston neighborhood in which he lived. The music on the album is notable for instilling the jazz-soul tradition with an up-to-the-minute sensibility and is deftly interpreted by the leader, joined by an intriguing collection of players for whom he wrote its tunes, Ellington-style.
He puts me in mind of the late and great Gerry Mulligan a little, and conjures up the memory of getting to shoot photographs of the jazz legend in the 1990s, his last UK visit and not long before he died. That night sticks in my memory for two reasons. 1. Because it was THE Gerry Mulligan. 2. Both my cameras packed up mid-shoot, at the same time. Never happened before or since in 40 years. Spooky!
It would not be out of line to mention the likes of Ronnie Cuber, Harry Carney, James Carter, Pepper Adams and Nick Brignola in the same breath as Mr Jared Sims. Many reading this may not yet have come across Sims before, but will know all about how masterful and accomplished the rest of those baritone boys were/are on their instrument. Trust me when I say; Sims is a real find. One of the most exciting saxophonists – and band leaders – I have heard in a long time. His compositions are faultless too. But it doesn’t end there…….
This outfit is as tight as a duck’s posterior, and not just a backing band but palpable chemistry between each other. But in organist Nina Ott, we have a star. Barbara Dennerlein sprang to mind when I heard Nina. But before reading the credits on this record, I assumed that Nina was playing the bass lines with her feet on the organ. Wrong. The bass is expertly handled by her husband Chris Lopes, and the two of them lock in together like superglue. It’s quite something. The organ work combined with the sax, and their soul-funk-jazz groove-soaked material put me in mind of the great Jimmy McGriff and Hank Crawford at times, even though the late and great Hank was a tenor man; he had some serious funk in his fingers and his lungs.
Mr Sims and his cohorts dip in and out of “traditional” – whatever that really is – jazz and into contemporary sounds, but above all else, they really do know how to nail a groove. My favourite jazz album of 2017 so far, and really should be up there on many “best of” lists as this year closes.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’