The debut album by Alex Milstead

Alex Milsted is a talented young tenor sax player and gifted composer. He draws on the rich musical heritage of his hometown of Portland, Oregon. Portland is a jazz lover’s dream and Alex and his band members have made great use of the vibrant musical scene in the Rose City. Alex tells that he and pianist Robert Langslet grew up together in Portland and both studied under jazz great Thara Memory. Drummer Chris Brown is the beneficiary of his father’s legacy, that of the renowned Mel Brown.

Make no mistake, however. These guys do not shadow their musical (and in Chris’ case, biological) forebears. They bring their own unique interpretations and intonations and inspirations. They have each achieved their own voice and they have something to say.

Alex describes the concept of “Kaleidoscope” as “simple- look at things that are familiar to you in different colors. It started with the title track. I wanted to make something swing through different time signatures and keys in a subtle and maybe even unnoticeable way. It's the same groove that's been a staple of this music for 100 years, seen through another lens.” That 100 year-old groove jumps at the listener from the opening of the first track. It is the sound of an old friend but soon takes on the face of a new and welcome acquaintance.

Alex and Tree Palmedo (trumpet) are in splendid agreement and pianist Robert Langslet in intriguing from the onset. The influence of Thara Memory is easily seen in the melodic approach to the theme. All the while, bassist John Shaw and Chris Brown keep the centenary groove fresh.

It is a well-written piece and beautifully sets the tone and theme for the entire album.

“Sea Bands” is the second track and brings forth a nautical feel with swaying times and melodies. Alex describes the song’s title as coming “from a company that makes wrist bands for motion sickness relief.” The intentional occasional dissonance and rhythms is certainly reminiscent of trying to get one’s balance on deck.

For all that, it is a rewarding number. It requires multiple listens to focus in on each of the musicians and I’m always intrigued by Chris Brown.

“Taking Leave” is magnificent. Again, Alex describes it as coming from “an obsession with Gustav Mahler's symphonies. The one that inspired this song the most is the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony. This is my venture into classical/jazz crossover. It reminded me of a dramatic love story from an old movie, hence the title.”

Of course, this suggestion will make one dig out an old copy of Mahler’s Fifth to hear that fourth movement again. Herbert von Karajan said “a great performance of the Fifth is a transforming experience.” It is astonishing to speak of a young sax player in his early twenties as creating something so transforming on his own but this is the result of hearing this amazing track. If this were the only piece of any worth on the entire album, it would be enough just to be so moved and touched. It is noble. It is profound. It truly is transforming.

And, fortunately, it is not the only piece of worth on the album.

“Iron Butterfly” follows and I was desperately hoping not to be subjected to a 17 minute song with a throbbing drum solo. My fears were proven false and was instead treated to a fascinating tune that set out to describe what an iron butterfly might sound like – “strong, delicate, aggressive, and beautiful.” Alex’s intention rewards the listener well, for it is all of those adjectives plus one more—“fascinating.”

Alex treats the listener to adventurous sax work while Langslet weaves a beautiful accompaniment. Once again, Chris is enthralling on the drums.

“Red Peak Lake” describes a seven-hour drive taken by Alex and his wife on their honeymoon. The song, like the events itself, is full of changing scenery and shifting imagery. It is also one of the high water marks for Tree Palmedo’s trumpet.

The whole group gets spotlight time on “Samsara.” All five catch fire here. Samsara is the “wheel of existence” in Buddhism and is the cycle of rebirth resulting from clinging through desire. While Buddhism intends to achieve an end to rebirth by renouncing such desire, this song allows no such notion because the virtuosity and brilliant composing of this piece only creates a desire for more. Chris Brown’s all-too-brief drum solo definitely leaves the hearer wanting more.

The final track is marvelous. There are blues lines, jazz lines, gospel. It was composed by Tree Palmedo and this is how Tree describes the track: “’Where the Heart Is’ was written toward the end of my first year away from home, and definitely reflects a nostalgic love for my favorite city in the world, Portland, Oregon. The title comes from the old saying, "home is where the heart is," and the gospel feel reflects such homecoming classics as Sam Cooke's ‘Bring It On Home to Me.’ But in my eyes the heart is less static than the saying suggests, and the title therefore reflects how at any moment, this nostalgic love could be directed at any specific place, activity or thing. I hope the song will bring listeners closer to wherever their own hearts are.”

There is a cool gospel groove and a bit of a swing along with it. The piano is engaging and the horns are in such complement but the rhythm section lays bare the heart.

John Shaw took the last track to grab the hearer. He strides. He skips. He runs. He waltzes. While his playing throughout the album was remarkable, he got me on this track and in doing so he ushered in the second coming of Chris Brown who propelled the horns and piano forward. This was church.

Farnell Newton and FNMUSICWEB have brought a jewel to light. Farnell knows talent when he sees it because he has it himself.

“Kaleidoscope” is a relentless foray into composition and exposition. The hearer is not pushed along this musical journey but is, rather, pulled along by the heart.

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Travis Rogers