REVIEWS

ALL ABOUT JAZZ

Justin Chart: The Scarlet Jazz Room
UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP

Play Justin Chart on Amazon Music Unlimited

Justin Chart is an award winning singer-songwriter and an accomplished jazz saxophonist. On his spontaneously created pieces Chart often collaborates with a rotating cast of like-minded sidemen. The resulting music is as sophisticated and intricately structured as carefully notated compositions. Chart, once again, showcases his unique artistic approach with the cinematic and enchanting The Scarlet Jazz Room.

Chart’s unaccompanied, soulful alto opens “Shape of My Shade.” As the four piece rhythm section enters, the piece simmers with passion. Chart’s serpentine lines meander with a suave swagger through the band’s darkly hued refrains driven b drummer Matt Lesser. Pianist Sam Ross, lays down crystalline cascades of notes that conjure up an ambience of late night bars that Raymond Chandler’s private eye Philip Marlowe may have frequented.

A similarly noir-ish mood prevails on “Through Reticent Windows.” Pianist Ben Dabiri and Chart open the track with a lyrical duet. The former then launches into an elegant and emotive extemporization that bassist Ryan Roberts and drummer Adam Denham support with their sparse beats. Further enhancing the dramatic atmosphere is trumpeter Mike Rocha’s muted horn.

On “With Passion and Wonder” Rocha and Chart swap inventive improvisations while pianist Chris Potter and bassist Johnny Hatton build a laid back groove. Chart’s yearning saxophone follows and mirrors Potter’s contemplative piano while Rocha’s burnished tones glide over Hatton’s reverberations.

Another pianist, Bob Remstein, starts off “An Answer of Balance” with shimmering chords. Chart blows yearning, fiery notes as Copic bows out an emotive melody. Rocha’s Latin-hued trumpet is evocative of mellow, burning sunsets. Roberts and drummer Danny Beallo anchor and propel the performance with their percolating vamps.

This imaginative album plays like a film soundtrack. The individual narratives associated with its nine parts are left up to each listener’s fancy. The fact that this entirely improvised and intimate work feels so personal, not only to Chart but also his audience, is testament to Chart’s musicianship.

HRAYR ATTARIAN
FOUR STARS

All About Jazz

Justin Chart: Live In Los Angeles
UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP

Play Justin Chart on Amazon Music Unlimited

Los Angeles-based, award-winning, musician Justin Chart is both an accomplished singer-songwriter and a superlative saxophonist. Chart infuses his jazz work with a distinct melodicism and his pop songs with a crackling spontaneity. A number of his releases are recorded in one take and are mostly improvised while eschewing dissonance and embracing lyricism. His tenth, Live in Los Angeles, is no different. Accompanying him through this exciting set of 12 originals are a rotating cast of sidemen all of whom share Chart’s artistic vision.

“Swing with A Platinum Ring” has an effervescent cadence over which Chart elegantly embellishes the main theme with his fluid, wailing alto saxophone. Pianist Sam Ross takes center stage with a crystalline cascade of notes, adding to the urbane ambience of the tune. Drummer Matt Lesser’s thunderous beats and bassist Nate Light’s agile reverberating strings alternate, building a vibrant backdrop to Chart’s delightfully acerbic alto.

Lesser joins bassist Johnny Hatton and keyboardist Jon Greathouse, forming a subtly sashaying rhythm section on the cinematic ballad “Rame.” Chart coaxes out of his alto saxophone yearning and wistful phrases which are a perfect match to trumpeter Mike Cottone’s burnished, warm sound. Hatton solos with melancholic poetry as Lesser and Greathouse support with their hypnotic vamps. The ensemble improvisation is remarkable on this as well as the entire session, as each member of the band deftly adds to the collective extemporization without losing their individuality.

The thrillingly dramatic atmosphere runs through the entire recording. “The Right Moves,” for instance, features the above quintet but with Taiza Oliveria taking over the drummer’s seat. Soulful, and with a bluesy edge, it opens with Cottone’s swaggering trumpet, the passion of which is reflected in Chart’s own soliloquy. The group’s percolating refrains buoy both horns and drive the music with their restless and simmering tempo.

Chart also plays the baritone saxophone with boisterous yet measured bravado on such pieces as the exuberant “Fingers & Humdingers.” Pianist Chris Potter lays down lithe and brisk chords and bassist Andrew Hill responds with equally nimble walking lines. Drummer Abelardo Bolano drives the music with fervor. Chart switches between alto and baritone saxophones, letting loose from both saxophones a fiery flood of notes. Here, too, a captivating tension permeates the atmosphere.

Live in Los Angeles fully reflects Chart’s singular creative approach. It sublimely balances intriguing ideas with emotive eloquence. Chart also excels as a bandleader not only in the cohesiveness of his various formations but also in allowing individual expressions within them. Overall Live in Los Angeles is a stimulating and enjoyable album which could also serve as a soundtrack for an arthouse film.

HRAYR ATTARIAN FOUR STARS

Fanfare The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors

JUSTIN CHART Live in Los Angeles
Los Angeles, 2021 UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP

As with my previous review of Justin Chart’s music, this release was auditioned via Apple Music Lossless streaming. This is very much caught live, and it is lovely to have ambient noise before the count-in and the very laid-back A Twilight Minor, a supreme alto sax solo from Chart weaving its spell against chordal piano from Sam Ross and all supported by the laid-back yet rhythmically rock-solid Matt Lesser on drums. The West Coast free jazz sound is clearly alive and well if this album is anything to go by, and as the first track progresses so the intensity latent in the beginning seems to awake, uncoiling with the slow inevitability of a snake. Audience appreciation is included. The next item, Swing with a Platinum Ring, is faster, including an ultra- rapid sax line, again nicely foregrounded in the mix. Both Lesser on drums and Nate Light on double-bass get more chance to shine here: and what an inventive double- bass solo there is, too. The deep bass has a tendency to bloom a little too much in this track, though; it just loses a bit of focus.

Lots of ambient noise adds plenty of atmosphere to Rame, a piece graced with a long and lyrical sax solo from Chart and a simply astonishing trumpet solo from Mike Cottone. The trumpet/sax duet here later in the number is pure magic, two masters at the very top of their game. Chart really comes into his own in the grungy sounds of his solo in Funky Feelin’ Lucky (interestingly, he plays both alto and baritone sax on this number). Perhaps in response to the modernism of some of the solos, there is a real feeling of the collective in this track, with instrumental groupings almost invoking a big band style.

The solo piano opening of No One Knows could hardly be more different. Even in more peaceful tracks, though, experimentation is rife, here finding Greathouse occasionally taking a semi-minimal approach. Less is very much more here while Cottone’s muted trumpet decorates, and soars. Johnny Hatton’s bass solo also toys with repeated fragments (and there is none of that bloom we heard earlier). Chart’s Beautiful melodies shine through this soulful, yet pensive melancholy piece.

The playfulness and even the occasional deliberate rhythmic imbalance in These Cats Are A- Strayin’ is incredibly addictive, itself finding balm in the reduced-personnel Saudade (back to just the four players; interestingly, the pianist here is Sam Ross whose contribution seems related to Greathouse’s contribution in No One Knows).

I love the title Fingers & Humdingers. As Chris Potters’ fingers do indeed fly across the keys (and what a wonderful segue into Andrew Hill’s double-bass with a sequence of cheeky descending chords); Chart’s fingers fly, too, as he once more uses both alto and baritone saxes. Baritone first, in a wonderfully fluid yet wired solo mirrored in Potter’s extended, rapid-fire solo. But how high the alto sax goes later, right at the conclusion (is that Chart at the end, saying “thank you” to the audience and laughing?). No surprise that Conversing with Los Angeles and I’m in Deep is high-energy, another track on which Chart plays both alto and baritone sax (we hear how rich his baritone sound is a little more here).

Justin plays unobtrusively but with such subtlety and understanding: his solo in My Amorous Alto is a masterclass in how less can say more. No doubting Chart’s virtuosity in The Seraphic Sound, though (and how Nate Light’s bass supports Chart’s adventures); and talking of sensitivity, Matt Lesser’s drum solo on The Seraphic Sound is outstanding; the sax entry immediately thereafter has a distinct 1970’s TV soundtrack feel to it that at once comes from nowhere and simultaneously fits in snugly. Finally, The Right Moves, the only track which features Taiza Oliveira on drums, is a wonderful piece that truly shows that Chart is definitely one of the most unique saxophonists on the scene today.

Another terrific release from Justin Chart and friends. Inventive and invigorating, this is just the perfect tonic.

Colin Clarke
FIVE STARS

Fanfare The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors

≈ CHART ~~ Intuition
NUMBER (streaming audio: 60:00) 16-bit/44.1kHz ALAC

The essence of jazz is improvisation, and the heart of intuition lies spontaneity. It is significant, then, that all twelve tracks here were spontaneously created in the studio, and that what we hear are all first takes. There is no editing, no overdubbing. We hear count-ins occasionally (as in the second track, laid-back The Sidereal Sound); it is all part of the ambience, the experience of eavesdropping into highly-attuned jazz friends interacting. The jazz journalist and historian Scott Yarrow has suggested that the sax “makes one think of dark rainy Los Angeles nights in a film noir,” and one can easily see the reference.

Auditioned via Apple Music Lossless streaming, the sound is vivid, close and works beautifully with the sonic space. The instruments are instantly locatable, the bass is clear yet resonant, the piano has a nice little edge (in terms of piano makers, think Yamaha or Kawai more than Bechstein). The bass in The Sideral Sound has great definition, significant as that is the firm ground from which Chart can launch his ambitious, forever free solos. Justin Chart’s alto sax sings beautifully; it is perhaps apposite to talk about his playing more in vocal terms than instrumental. It does indeed sing, mournfully often.

The group is joined by rapper/vocalist/artist Know-Madik for I Didn’t Then I Did. “This journey was written in the stars” it begins, appositely as Know-Madik’s Twitter profile gives his location as “Earth, Milky Way”. Know-Madik’s sense of timing is as finely wrought as any lifelong jazzer’s (he is more laid-back in Somethin’ To Say). Both are quite a contrast to the high-velocity beat of Just Like That, a pulse-raising number that shows Chart flying not only free but fast and free. There is a touch of hesitation about the piano pick-up from the sax solo, but Chris Potter goes on to an extended discourse of great imagination. Drum breaks can swiftly lose an audience’s attention in the jazz world, but Ian Wurfl’s here is gripping; the key is the way he takes then maintains the energy of the preceding passages, and as Chart’s exultant saxophone takes over in a hail of notes creating heady melismas, the effects are breath-taking. Literally.

One does need some respite after that and the softer grained Our Hands provides it a plaintive sax tune over gentle piano waves. Add to that the more forthright lines of Always in All Ways, itself a wide-ranging number that later interiorizes to a great extent, and this is adding tup to an album of great breadth. And while one might sit in admiration at the faster numbers, it is in the expressivity of the slower ones that move one to the core. Chris Potter’s piano solo in Diamond of the Night is utterly remarkable in its imagination while the gently metallic percussion of Wurfl seems to encrust the piano with the diamonds of the title. Similarly, the sax song of These Changes Divine is of utter beauty, an endless melody that perhaps should go on forever such is the solace it delivers. I wonder if I am alone in detecting something of Billy Joel in ruminative mood to the piano solo (perhaps the opening of The Stranger) in this number?

I have no idea of the basis for the title Cherry Tonalin, but the number feels perfectly constructed. Nice to hear the sax completely alone at the beginning of Blue Will Get You, a slow blues that nevertheless doesn’t sit too heavily on the heart. The piano solo is cool in extremis, unhurried and laid back ith a lovely set of chords that play effectively with the background pulse just after the song’s central point. I love the idea of the final track, Pleased After a Day’s Work, an acknowledgement of the work that went into the album as well as that more general feeling of a job well done. It has an easy beat, and all players are in an equal and equable dialog with each other. It is quite remarkable that these tracks are off-the cuff: listen to the structure of Somethin’ To Say and you may hear what I mean. The interaction between voice and sax works just beautifully approaching structural junctures, two equal voices effecting change. A terrific release, taking in a wide emotional remit. That it is spontaneously created is remarkable. Despite Chart’s impressive discography, this is my first experience of his music-making, and I am sure it won’t be my last.

5 STARS
Colin Clarke