Steven Kroon’s fifth album has been worth the wait. After the musical success of 2011’s “Without a Doubt,” Steven has kept together the core of that great band and has even brought back drummer Vince Cherico from earlier Kroon recordings.
Igor Atalita returns on piano and serves as musical director. Also returning are the trusted colleagues Bryan Carrott on vibraphone, Craig Rivers on flute and one of my bassists in the world, Ruben Rodriguez. Tim Ries make a guest appearance on sax.
The first track is the title track of the album “On the One.” It introduces the album the same way that Steven’s prevfious album “Without a Doubt” was introduced; that is, the first track is an Oscar Hernandez composition, co-written by Steven Kroon with Oscar arranging the final score.
“On the One” is Steven’s phrase for when something goes as it should, “right on point point, focused,” as Steven says in the liner notes. This song proves its title. The groove is so tight right from the start with the rolling congas as the percussive piano and bass lay down the groove. The flute and sax carry the melody with an alternating tug between groove and melody.
The vibes drift between both sections beautifully and Bryan Carrott gets a sweet solo at the almost-halfway point. Behind him, Igor Atalita creates cool changes and under them all is the monster rhythm section of Kroon, Rodriguez and Cherico.
Cherico is a treasure. It is a welcome treat to see him back where he belongs—anchoring the beat. Vince also appeared on Chembo Corniel’s brilliant 2012 album “Afro Blue Monk” which I named my Jazz Album of the Year for 2012.
“Roots” by Sonny Henry and arranged by Igor opens with a hard groove shared by everyone. Igor just may be one of the true masters of percussive piano. The flute/vibraphone trades between Craig and Bryan are generous and fabulous. Tim Ries gets in on it and turns in exquisite work with them.
Tim is a graduate of the famed North Texas State Jazz Studies Department (think Lyle Mays) and later studied under Michael Brecker. Tim has appeared with Steven before—most notably, Steven’s 2002 album “Señor Kroon.”
Listen to the great Ruben Rodriguez’ bass behind it all. The man understands rhythm and its application to all genres. He is not only a magnificent Latin bassist, he can play everything. Having spent time with Mongo Santamaria and Tito Puente, he learned well. Of course, Bobby Sanabria is also an influence and who could be unchanged by Bobby?
“I Know You Do” is the third offering on the album and is introduced by Ruben’s bass line. Igor joins in with a cool Latin groove/melody which turns into harmony when the flute/sax/vibes join in. Craig Rivers’ trilling flute is a beautiful touch. Tim Ries never fails to please.
Listening to this track requires many replays in order to focus on what each musician is contributing. Listen to the whole group first, then listen to the individuals, then go back to the whole group and it becomes clear what Hernandez and Kroon have done in their composition . It is a brilliant piece.
“Phantom of the Islands” has a cool Caribbean feel and the tightest groove you could ever ask for. Steve, Ruben and Vince beat the living daylights out of this rhythm. All the while, Igor keeps up the the solid chord changes and flows into excellent jazz piano strains.
This is the track that has everything. Everyone is on fire here. From 4:17 to the end, the thunderous groove carries forward and Steven draws the band into himself and they gladly fall into his gravity.
Bryan Carrott’s vibraphone leads in with the melody for a tender rendition of Sam Dooley Wilson’s “As Time Goes By.” Igor’s piano accompaniment is equally touching in this piece that Igor himself arranged. The rhythm moves from bomba to bossa nova in cool transition.
This piece becomes the centerpiece of the album and is the eye of the storm both in track-listing and its softer rhythmic quietude. All the other tracks swirl around its stillness.
Then Donald Vega’s “Dust Till Dawn” swings right back into the percussive maelstrom. Ruben is relentless with his pulse-pounding bass as the flute and vibes again carry the heart of the melody forward.
For me, this is Craig Rivers’ stand-out piece, although another day might see me suggesting a different one. He’s that good.
Igor again takes command with piano and paves a gentle path for the flute and vibes. This cheerful, light-hearted piece is a delightful distraction. Steven and Vince are in contented agreement behind the melody. While that melody is extraordinary, the rhythmic heartbeat of the work is enthralling.
“Where There is Love” is a John Heart composition, arranged by Igor Atalita, that soars high in mood and in melody. It is one of the most uplifting works on the album and is easily the most melodic of the whole album. This is the one track that needs about 100 replays.
Again, the rhythmic considerations brought out by Steven, Ruben and Vince are splendid. It is easy to lose sight of even that sweet melody when hearing the amazing work of that rhythm section.
The penultimate song on the album is “Camel Rise” which is a Bryan Carrott arrangement of the George Cable original. Ruben again takes the listener through colorful cascades of chops as Igor gets extra points for the return to such jazzy piano. The vines are exciting and the whole work comes together flawlessly.
Steven holds down the rhythm as Vince ventures into abstract and attractive hits on the drums.
The album ends with the Marty Sheller composed and arranged “Touch.” The rhythms of the piece are beautifully attended by the musicians. It is a perfect partnership of the percussion players with the melodic musicians.
Steven once said that “it’s very hard to put out a record as a percussionist…We hear things different than other musicians, too. We want to hear 6/8, we want to play a samba…because it’s the rhythm we love.”
Steven has succeeded incredibly well as a band-leader. After all, he’s now done it on five albums and these with him have learned to hear the rhythms, also, because they play it so well.
As a band leader, musician, composer and arranger, Steven Kroon has climbed high. To use his own words, he is “On the One.”