The third chapter of his sonic autobiography finds Darius Jones bringing his story up to the present, translating the events surrounding the saxophonist’s 2005 move to New York and emergence on the wider jazz scene. Where his two previous entries, 2009’s Man’ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) and last year’s Big Gurl (Smell My Dream), plumbed the raw, rootsy sound of his upbringing in rural Virginia and the Southern church and subsequent studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, The Book of Mae’bul refines Jones’ sound without forsaking the gut-level impact of his roaring alto.
This time out, Jones employs his working quartet with pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Ches Smith, all peers with an equal ability to randomly access wide swaths of both jazz history and modernity. The corkscrew permutations of “Winkie” are immediately followed by the unironically lovely ballad “Be Patient With Me,” with Jones finding an unexpected, quavering vulnerability in his typically steely tone.
Offering the opportunity for direct comparison, Book of Mae’bul closes with a reprise of “Roosevelt,” the tune that opened Man’ish Boy. There, the piece consisted of little more than its theme, bellowed over a pulsating bass/piano bed. The new version more than quintuples the original’s one-minute duration, dissolving into airy, open space dominated by abstract textures.
Jones’ previous releases have been touted as a more warm-blooded alternative to the headier complexity of many of his contemporaries, but Mae’bul asserts a more integrated view of those approaches, with full-throated emotion bursting out of darting, angular lines, swaggering swing derailed by eccentric swerves.