A Sea of Voices-- Jamie Ousley

Jamie Ousley is one of the most talented, versatile, and well-respected South Florida-based jazz artists. He is a powerful and eloquent bassist and a polished composer of invariably distinctive tunes. A local print periodical named him "Best South Florida Jazz Musician of 2011," while his last CD, the unbridled Back Home, was selected by another area publication as "Best South Florida Jazz Release of 2010." While Back Home featured the superb multi-instrumentalist Ira Sulllivan (another South Florida resident), A Sea of Voices is primarily a piano trio affair. Pianist Joe Davidian and drummer Austin McMahon first played with Ousley as members of the University of Miami's Concert Jazz Band, and they have kept on as a trio since 2003. The net proceeds from A Sea of Voices are going to Sunshine State Interfaith Power and Light, an organization seeking to promote environmental activism in the religious communities of Florida. Hence the song titles of most tracks on this CD reflect an interest in nature and the sea.

Ousley's "Hymn of the Tides" is an up-lifting tune with a calypso-flavored rhythmic pulse set by the leader's bass and McMahon's drums. Davidian's improvisation is absorbing and builds tirelessly and endearingly. "How Deep is the Ocean" is a logical if not obvious choice for a project of this kind. The trio's rapport, so well-established with the opening "Hymn of the Tides," is reaffirmed here. Davidian makes fresh choices consistently in his phrasing, and his runs are crisply executed and supported by active and tasteful left-hand punctuations. Ousley's resounding tone and expressiveness are both on display in his solo. McMahon's intricate and commanding percussion is also highlighted before the pianist once again gives the Berlin theme an imaginative reworking. Ousley's funky intro to his soulful "Steam," and his throbbing bass line thereafter, frame this appealing track. Davidian struts his stuff, with swirling arpeggios galore, followed by Ousley's preaching bass solo. McMahon's drumming is right on once more.

The traditional folk song "Shenandoah" is given an admirable reading, graced by Nanami Morikawa's lustrous vocal in both English and Japanese. Ousley's dramatic arco presentation of the melody is soon joined by Morikawa's wordless vocalizing for a perfectly sublime ending. Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's popular country/bluegrass tune "Rocky Top" is earnestly handled by Davidian before he expands upon it is in his solo with more bluesy accents. The Tennessee-raised Ousley then offers a satisfying thematic exploration of his own before the pianist's reprise. "Loving Beauty" is a stunning Ousley ballad that inspires impeccable improvs by the composer and pianist, as well as airtight interaction by the trio as a whole.

Coldplay's "Swallowed in the Sea" features Ousley's majestic and greatly moving bowed exposition of the theme. Davidian solos assuredly as the bassist and drummer back him in precise alignment. "With You" is yet another captivating Ousley work, presented in a Latin mode. The bassist prances and dances in his sparkling solo, and Davidian's exquisite statement showcases his ringing tone, flawless technique, and provocative phrasing. McMahon is also given space to unleash his ample skills as well. Ousley's reflective and reverent "Holy Water" is given a heartfelt interpretation by Davidian, succeeded by the bassist's equally touching solo. Come to this track to relieve all the stresses of the day.

The popular Argentinian folk tune by Ariel Ramirez and Felix Luna, "Alfonsina y el Mar," caps an enchanting CD. Gabriel Saientz guests on piano for an exuberant treatment that fully brings out both its classical and Latin derivations.

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Scott Albin