Music Diary Review: Ochion Jewell – First Suite For Quartet

Ochion Jewell – First Suite for Quartet

Ochion Jewell – First Suite for Quartet

As I have stated again and again, one thing I love about doing music reviews for Gear Diary is that it allows me to listen to and share great music by artists you might not hear about otherwise – but who really deserve the attention. Early this spring I specifically highlighted several of these recordings, including a release by bassist Sam Trapchak.

So then Sam Trapchak tells a friend of his who has released a new CD to get in touch with me. As is always the case, I check out his website and stream a bit of music before agreeing to review … and I like what I hear. Sadly the music isn’t on iTunes or Amazon MP3 store, so I can’t support the artist as I prefer, but instead get a review copy of the CD to check out. The artist is Ochion Jewll, and his recording is First Suite for Quartet. Let’s take a listen and see how it goes!

Summary: One of the great things about jazz music for me is the constant journey of discovery – I have been listening to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew for over 30 years and I STILL discover new things pretty much every time I listen. Sometimes the process of discovery is about being in a certain frame of mind, other times about the listening environment, and still other pieces of music just really need you to fully engage yourself in the process of experiencing the music.

I was reminded of that last one as I first listened to Ochion Jewell’s First Suite for Quartet. As is often the case, I simply dumped it onto my iPod, took it to my car and pressed play as I set off for work. Of course, I had a million things on my mind including actually driving – so over the first playthrough (which took two days since my commute is ~10 minutes each way!) I didn’t immediately absorb the music.

The next day I knew I would be sitting at my desk doing solitary work, so I plugged in my earbuds and looped the entire seven-song suite about a dozen times over the course of the day. The album starts off slowly and quietly and I immediately knew why I had missed so many of the pleasures on offer – driving in a car with all of the associated noises and distractions we miss out on subtlety … and this album is full of subtlety.

During my day of listening, I never got sick of listening, never skipped a song, and over the course of the hours the gorgeous music and deep cooperative communication became engrained upon my mind. Since that day I have listened to the album nearly every day as I waited to have time to write the review. Ochion Jewell composed the suite and plays saxophone and is joined by Amino Belyamani on piano, Sam Minaie on acoustic bass and Qasim Naqvi on drums.

As I mentioned, the song ‘From Dust’ starts things off slowly and has an introspective feel. There is melodicism, a wonderful mix of composed and improvised sections that intertwine to the point that it is all just part of a larger whole rather than being a traditional ABA blowing session. It is the sort of song that sizzles but never burns, keeps you wanting more and more. Things remain mostly quiet with “A Snakeride Through The Fog”, as the focus shifts from piano-sax interplay to a heavily drum & bass led effort, with the upper registers coming in to add color and complement where the action was heading rather than ever firmly taking control. It is a controlled effort that occasionally hints at some free-jazz influence coming into play.

Things really break loose when we get to ‘…but there goes the baddest, lone-ass wolf I ever did know’, which I will discuss more under ‘choice track’. From there we move on to the fun and funky ‘[]Zero-1[]’, which was the first time I found myself thinking ‘this reminds me of …’ as the song centers on a alternating block-chord piano figure that reminds me of stuff from Vijay Iyer without being derivative. The rhythms are far from subtle, everyone hammering away – but there is STILL an amazing level of interplay! This band is operating at an incredible level of musicianship and communication, and I find myself loving every minute of it!

‘Nectar’ is just gorgeous – it is evocative of sweet, flowing honey as the group comes together Ochion’s beautifully lyrical melodic figures and supports him throughout. But again, soon we are listening to a beautiful Sam Minaie section, then back to Ochion, and so on. It is a great song – and the first time on the entire album we can just relax and listen without everything shifting under our feet. Well, until is segues into ‘Atonement’, which has an intense undercurrent that reminds me of something from John Coltrane or Anthony Braxton. The final song is ‘You Are My Sunshine’ – yes, THAT song. When I first played it my kids found it dark and down for what is such a happy song, but I told them that misses the point. Sure it IS dark, but more introspective and thoughtful than anything else. And after getting over the memories of the song in commercials for French’s Mustard from the late 70’s, I really enjoyed the arrangement and gentle treatment. It provides a great close for a great album.

Listening to ‘up and coming’ artists, you generally get a sense of developing talent laden with overt influences and some interesting moments, but seldom do you hear a fully realized work and mature playing. I have been very fortunate in the last few years to have found people like Jason Parker, Sam Trapchak, Dave Chisholm and now Ochion Jewell who produce amazing music. For me, the test is pretty simple: I have a 32GB first-gen iPod Touch that is filled out of my iTunes Library randomly. When a song comes on that I love but can’t immediately place, I look at the artist and song. It has happened in recent weeks with Ochion Jewell where I am half-way into a song and an so engaged I want to switch to the full album – and realize it is Ochion!

Choice Track (and why): “…but there goes the baddest, lone-ass wolf I ever did know.” – Choosing this was easy .. this song has it all! Starting off with an intriguing alternating set of melodic statements and rhythmic interplay, there is a lot going on that makes you want to dive right in, but the group holds back as they slide into a slow groove – and then into a faster pace segment and finally restate the theme. The way the group allows time to ebb and flow naturally, taking dynamics and the free-ness of the improvisation along for the rise is simply masterful. I have listened to this song hundreds of times and it is one of my favorite pieces of music from 2011.

You Might Love This If: Love modern jazz rooted in the tradition but are willing to explore outside the usual comfort zone, and are willing to put the time into listening to one of the most rewarding albums of 2011.

Where to Buy: Ochion Jewell Website – Note: the album will be on CD Baby soon, but for now the best way to grab it is to head to the contact info on his website.

Here is the first part from the CD release party this past summer:

Categories: Music Diary, Reviews