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Ascension: Naked Soul

Formed at Virginia’s famed James Madison University, the trio Ascension boasts three extremely talented musicians in “J.G.” (vocalist John Gordon), “Bunmi” (vocalist Shanta Jasper), and “Nate” (multi-instrumentalist Ira Smith). The vocals soar to soul-falsetto heaven, and the moody piano textures and knuckling drums crackle with life-which is why it seems so odd that the trio’s Naked Soul (Nakedsoul Music NS-0098; 40:30) just doesn’t go anywhere. Groove-based light pieces like “Movin'” (despite its cool trumpet riffs) and “Wonderin'” are dull and repetitive elude the requisite hooks for an R&B/pop tome. Likewise the more intriguing stuff-the club-fusion feel of “My Love,” and wirey soul “Sweet Honey Brown” aren’t abstract enough to pass as avant-garde. The best piece here, “Dare to Call It Love,” taps into the best of Ascension, drawing tension from the piano and smoky bits of muted trumpet, while J.G. sings his most understandable and accessible lead of the record. More work in this direction could mean great things from this talented yet strangely boxed-in trio.

Originally Published