When the pandemic arrived, Joel Ross went back to school – to New York’s famous New School conservatory, where completing his degree included a class on the blues. It proved a resonant decision for the twentysomething vibraphonist, transforming his view of the blues from archaic 12-bar form to what he calls “a sort of spirit, an energy”.

The pandemic also made Ross wonder whether his three previous albums for Blue Note were not too fussy, too concerned with “time and tempo manipulations”, a little daunting for the uncommitted.

This fourth offering, while made with his regular Good Vibes group, a high-grade four-piece featuring alto sax player Immanuel Wilkins, is more accessible. The set is anchored by breezy covers of Thelonious Monk’s Evidence and John Coltrane’s Equinox and Central Park West, with seven original pieces. The title track and Mellowdee are shimmering showcases for Ross’s talent. The former, full of echoing runs, almost sounds like vibes-in-dub; the latter has him sparring with Wilkins’s wiry alto. What Am I Waiting For? has echoes of Charles Mingus’s mournful Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; Bach (God the Father in Eternity) is church-like; while on Chant, Ross switches to piano for a brief, intense duet with flautist (and partner) Gabrielle Garo.

An innovative homage to tradition.


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