The John Blinsky Quartet is going to release their debut album “Footprints” on March 19th. As can be understood from the name, the album includes both covers from jazz giants (such as the title track), and original compositions. The compositions most nearly represent the classic 60s modal jazz. In fact, when taken out of context, the songs could as well be indistinguishable from recordings of that era. Since John Blinsky is a trombonist, there is of course a slight emphasis on that instrument. However, each song features most of the band taking solos. The band sounds absolutely locked-in. What proved that to me was small exchanges between each instrument and the soloist. When Blinsky played a nice phrase on the horn, Gage immediately responded or completed the phrase with the piano. Callard altered his minimal fills according to Gage’s free-form comp. Kinnaman got out of the lower-register to emphasize a tension point. Any professional musician would agree that the musician’s job is to create a good sound not on a single instrument but with a union of their bandmates’ playing. Knowing this takes experience and practice. This makes me wonder, how the hell are these guys so young? Blinsky, born in 2001, is just a freshman in jazz school, and this album definitely kickstarts his career at a high point.
– John Blinsky – Trombone – Brendan Gage – Piano
– Ian Kinnaman – Bass
– Joey Callard – Drums
1. Footprints (8:54):
“Footprints”, the first song in the album, is an intense song containing many elements of jazz, different rhythmic approaches and virtuosity as well as strong emotions embedded in it. The song starts with an odd oriented 9/8 tempo, anchored by drums. Regarding to the orientation of the rhythm, “Footprints” has an energetic, active feeling which engages the listener at the few seconds after the beginning. The song has no specific and detailed pre-arrangements made regarding the melody and harmony, it proceeds with both basic and complex improvisations.
One of the key elements in Footprints is time signatures, and also modulations accompanying them. After some improvisations from the piano and trombone, time signature changes to a waltz time, a 3/4 beat. Again, drums held the control between changes good enough that the feeling is smooth and swingy. For a while, the song continues to shift between time signatures, shout out for the drummer again, 3/4 and 9/8. One other factor that the changes are fluent enough is that 9/8’s (which was familiar but not used in the earlier bits) 3 subdivided structure, melts into an again, 3/4’s, 3 subdivided structure. Modulations regarding the chord progressions also occur during this interval of loose time signatures. Brendan Gage, in the piano, did a good job on adjusting the modulations taking into account the changes in rhythm.
After this transition, the song continues with a stable waltz time. Again, the melody and harmony are held by improvisation, but now, the improvisations are much more complex. Although bass and drums do not contribute much to the improvisation sections, piano and trombone, by Gage and John Blinsky, are all very fine. Solos are irregularly phrased, regarding the rhythm, and contain musical creativity. The irregular phrasing techniques required all the players to be focused on virtuosity and instrumental technique. Although these parts may perceived as a reminiscent from bebop or free jazz, John Blinsky Quartet surprises the listeners with efforts in collective improvisation. These parts are mainly held by piano and trombone, and are pretty creative. However, unlike other improvs in the song, the collectives improvisation reminds the listener of the polyphony of Dixieland jazz style. All of these require a great instrumental technique by all of the members at the same time, which John Blinsky Quartet managed its way out just good.
After the energetic start, the song shifts into a more groovy and swingy style. Approaching to the end of the song, improvisations are now less unhurried and calmer. This creates a relaxed feeling for the listener, as though coming to an end of an intense journey lasted near 9 minutes.
2. Nwonknu (3:01):
This is an original piece that has been composed by Blinsky, which instantly crosses a line between the other songs with its roots of the 20s marching-band Jazz style. As a joke, we suppose, the licc is one of the first licks that opens the song. The licc has been constantly used and probably serves as a starting point for the song-since most of the melodies derive from it. The small interlude in between the verses serves as a creative space for the Callard to show his soloing ability on a groove and also space for Gage to show his love of chord changes. However, dynamically and musically, the song could have been a little bit more full and spicy-but it still shows a potential.
The progression is precise for a melody to sit on it, but they instead preferred some complex melody lines based on the licc that are hardly recognizable-and still interesting.
3. Theme for Francis (6:28) :
The third song of the album feels like a sincere monologue, although instead of words, Blinsky is communicating through his trombone’s thick notes (which reminded us of Coltrane’s “Psalm”). And indeed, as Blinsky stated, this was his “final goodbye to [his] grandfather” who had recently passed away. Through this music, he is honoring his grandfather’s “hard-working nature” and possibly their memories together. It is not an easy task to decipher what Blinsky wants to convey exactly, but that is something personal between him and his grandfather. What we, as the listener, experience is the pure emotions carried through the notes, the pauses and the dynamics. And that’s the beauty of instrumental jazz.
Brendan Gage in this section uses a combination of block chords and embellishments from the higher octaves that mostly follow the rhythm. However, it would’ve been more interesting to hear more syncopation in the chords so long as it doesn’t interfere with the trombone’s melodies. Kinnaman’s bass lines especially show themselves during the fills, which in the track mostly comprises of silences.
The track features one of the most prominent and enjoyable piano solos as Gage’s choice of chords are as varied as usual; but this time, they fit the theme and atmosphere of the tune. It is a conscious and thoughtful move from Blinsky to reserve a place for a piano solo in this farewell to a loved one.
4. Wave (7:20) :
“Wave” starts off with certainly the most energetic groove in the album. Considering that in the song before, “Theme For Francis”, Joey Callard was by comparison in the background, it is nice to see his chops on the drums showcased from the very beginning, as a way to restore the balance between the band members. Though it is 4/4, a sense of odd time is created using different divisions (3-3-2 and 2-2-2-2) in turns.
After the quick two-bar fill on the drums, Gage’s piano quickly picks up the pace by creating a two-sided conversation: the bass notes with his left hand, followed by fast and concise chords with his right hand. This style, which has a jazz fusion flair, is a contrast to the rest of the album, which mostly comprises of more old school and slower-tempo jazz. However, when the trombone enters, this energy is quickly dissolved and a regular, more composed (though it is still fast) segment starts. When you take the title of the track into account, it’s almost like waves crashing onto the shore and dissolving into foam. Blinsky’s trombone in the song feels more pebbly than usual if we are to continue with the waves metaphor. This contrast is repeated a few times which leads to a piano solo that once again highlights Gage’s use of block chords. Although the solo sometimes can feel lost and uncertain where it wants to resolve, Kinnaman’s bass lines offer an interesting melody to follow on its own.
After one more repeat, the song finally presents us with the more crazed final section where each instrument goes crazy on its own, like the sections before had promised. As the climax of the song fades out, we are once again reminded of the waves receding back toward the sea…
5. Mr. Brown (7:58):
A bluesy lick opens the slow-burn track with a sweet atmosphere while being also the 2nd longest track of the album. Realizing that it actually has some similarities, in terms of melodies, with the same-titled Bob Marley song adds a whole another dimension to the song and makes you wonder if this was a choice or a chance?
The song might have the most different and interesting dynamic and structural arrangements of the whole album-while still having a hard time differentiating itself from the others. But it is a journey of discovering your own sound and constant inspiration/creative flow; so it is good to see the places that one can still improve-especially in music since it is the journey that will never end and constantly evolve.
Interesting melody choices and phrasings have been made by Blinsky throughout the song, while the piano solos feel a little bit feeble compared to trombone solos. One should also give attention to the rhythmical games that the band has played, like the rhythmical bickering in-between the instruments and accentuations.
The song captures and also creates the whole atmosphere of the album with the Quartet’s signature styles and soundscape emphasized during each second of the track. It will be a pleasure to see this band evolve and differentiate itself from the other Jazz artists.
6. Love’s in Need of Love Today (6:53) :
If you know the original Stevie Wonder version of this song, you would know that it is already quite jazzy and romantic. Introducing horns and jazzing up the chords definitely added another layer. The trombone glides over Wonder’s lines, and the piano comp ties it up into a beautiful ballad. Unfortunately the drums do not live up to their potential. The drummer follows a single pattern with minor tom embellishments. While this might have been to keep the song on the softer side, I liked that in other songs it increased intensity as the soloist went into a tense lick.