Drummer Jerome Jennings, takes the lead in this swinging, soulful sextet. The brass is heavy with trumpet/flugelhorn player Sean Jones, trombonist Dion Tucker, and tenor saxophonist Howard Wiley. McBride is present on his bass as well as fellow Trio pianist Christian Sands. Four of the nine tracks are composed by Jennings himself, with the others from the pens of Ben Webster, Freddie Hubbard, Don Ray & Gene de Paul, Vincent Brantley & Rick Timas, and Jon Burr. Scatting vocalist Jazzmeia Horn appears on You Don't Know What Love Is.
The title track, The Beast, stems from his incident of "driving while being Black" and the photography and text on the album packaging support his outrage. The music of the album, however, is full of love and respect of his craft. Educated at Rutgers and Julliard, Jennings further developed his skills with many esteemed jazz artists; he worked with Sonny Rollins for three years, and his schedule is filled with educational and diverse performance gigs. Jennings drum work is evident in Cool It Now, with Vernel Fournier's Poinciana beats.
The album is cheerful with nice grooves and shuffles, but there is also some side excursions: McBride's solo is the entry to Hubbard's hot and furious piece, The Core; Cammy's Smile is a slow, sweet ballad for the daughter of Jennings' late friend drummer Tony Reedus that has wah-wah muted trumpet; and then there is The Beast, a drama with snare drum introduction, driving, trombone siren, jittery and staggering solos. The final track, New Beginnings, begins with waving chime percussion and harmonious brass; it includes a spoken sampling of a #blacklivesmatter protest speech, which reminds me of Gil Scott-Heron and his early 1970s releases. This debut album is thoroughly satisfying in arrangements and compositions, balance, sonority, and grooves.
1. Love The Drums - Jon Burr 5:15
2. Cool It Now - Vincent Brantley, Rick Timas 8:48
3. Ice Cream Dreams - Jerome Jennings 5:16
4. You Don’t Know What Love Is - Don Raye (lyrics) and Gene de Paul 6:31
5. Did You Call Her Today - Ben Webster 7:43
6. The Core - Freddie Hubbard 10:09
7. Cammy’s Smile - Jerome Jennings 7:10
8. The Beast - Jerome Jennings 4:58
9. New Beginnings - Jerome Jennings 6:44
SHORT DESCRIPTION OF THE TUNES
LOVE THE DRUMS - Props to my friend, bassist and composer Jon Burr, for writing this tune with me in mind. The title says it all. Not only do I love the drums, I also love to play shuffle grooves.
COOL IT NOW - "Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, and Mike..." one of the most important influential R&B vocal groups: New Edition! Actually, this was the first musical group my parents took my brother and me to see at a very popular music hall in northeast Ohio called The Front Row (it no longer exists). Side note: respect to Johnny Gill (who wasn't in the group yet when we saw NE).
ICE CREAM DREAMS - Between the months of May and August there is one tune that puts a smile on every kid's face on most every block in this country. "The Ice Cream Man is coming!!!" The Mister Softee theme is the most ubiquitous tunes I heard while living in Brooklyn, NY. It has a catchy and infectious ring, but most importantly it makes kids happy and laugh. I would see kids joyfully running to the ice cream truck outside of my window.
YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS- This is a classic standard by Don Raye/Gene de Paul. We are all in search of affirmation and love. This arrangement is by Curtis Fuller. I replaced the top trumpet voice with the fantastic vocalist, Jazzmeia Horn.
DID YOU CALL HER TODAY - This swinger is from the pen of Ben Webster. My mom and I have always been really close. Once I moved to the east coast we became even tighter. I suspect it was because of the distance. I tried my best to call her everyday to let her know I was alive and well. This tune is dedicated to her and her constant support.
THE CORE - This is one of my favorite tunes. Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers recorded this on one of my all time favorite records "Free For All." Freddie Hubbard wrote this tune commemorating the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE). The CORE organization played a pivotal role for African Americans during our struggle for Civil Rights during the 1950s and 60s. Its stated mission was "to bring about equality for all people regardless of race, creed, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or ethnic background." Many jazz musicians performed at CORE benefits during the 1960's.
CAMMY'S SMILE - When I moved to the east coast in fall of 2002 I was blessed to befriend drum great Tony Reedus. The next year he invited me to his place for Thanksgiving. His then fiancée (they later married in 2006), Niecy Grice, treated me like family from day one. They soon had a child, a beautiful girl named Cameron. In November of 2008, Tony unexpectedly passed away. Needless to say this was a very sad time for the family, and our music community was hit hard by the loss of one of the great ones. The year that Cameron Reedus lost her father, she was only five years old. Little Cammy's consistent upbeat attitude and smile was a great source of encouragement. This entire tune represents a conversation between Cammy (the muted trombone) and Reedus (the tenor saxophone).
THE BEAST - This tune was inspired by a troubling encounter with a Mercer County (NJ) police officer. Mom advised me to "put the emotion you felt in a song." Everything that happens in this piece is significant. The drum roll at the beginning represents me driving. It slows down as I pull over to the side of the road. The horns represent me and the rhythm section represents the officers cutting me off as I try to explain what I'm doing in that particular neighborhood at 2am.
NEW BEGINNINGS - This is a piece that I composed with the encouragement of my friend and mentor, Victor Lewis. The title represents a dual meaning: the beginning melody is stated by all of the horns while at the 'B section' each band member passes each phrase around creating a new sound or new beginning before we all unite for the climactic last 8 bars before the last 'A section.' I only hope to show that as individuals we can accomplish amazing things, but together we can do even more. Educator, activist, and actor Jesse Williams gave a courageous speech this year at the 2016 BET Awards. I've included excerpts of it at the end of the piece. I believe that it’s time for a new beginning in our country as well.
Jerome Jenning - drums, percussion on track 9
Sean Jones - trumpet, flugelhorn on track 2
Howard Wiley - tenor sax
Dion Tucker - trombone
Christian Sands - piano
Christian McBride - bass
Jazzmela Horn - vocals on track 4