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Jaleel Shaw: Optimism

Optimism surges through “Flipside,” the opening track on Jaleel Shaw’s second recording as a leader. Altoist Shaw and guitarist Lage Lund unfurl the complex extended line in unison, so tightly bound that they sound like a single instrument; then, as both melody and rhythm suspend, dissolve and re-congeal behind him, Shaw ascends into a speedy, probing solo. Drummer Johnathan Blake both impels him and lays down rich textures to enhance his ideas; pianist Robert Glasper’s variegated, two-handed attack conveys the jubilance of a call-and-response chorus as well as the determination of a single questing soul. Throughout, the players throw down daunting challenges to themselves and one another, and then joyously embark on the task of meeting and overcoming them.

“The Struggle,” more darkly hued, is nonetheless shot through with a similar affirmation. Joe Martin’s brooding bass intro sets the context for an intimate conversation among Glasper, Shaw and Lund, a multifaceted polyphony that eventually solidifies into a unison statement before loosening up again into an expansive aural landscape for a characteristically acerbic yet upward-arcing solo statement from Shaw. The mood alternates between introspection and ebullience-invoking both the song’s title and the title of the CD, it conveys the message that optimism is the result of meeting, and prevailing over, risk and uncertainty.

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