The E.J. Strickland Quintet: Warriors for Peace (Jammin’ Colors)

Review of relaxed, all-original set led by the drummer

Cover of E.J. Strickland Quintet album Warriors for Peace
Cover of E.J. Strickland Quintet album Warriors for Peace

Peace, definitely. Warriors, not so much. At its best, a feel of relaxed jubilation warms this set. Saxophonists Jure Pukl and Godwin Louis dance with nimble dexterity across variegated landscapes conjured by the drumming of E.J. Strickland—textured and multitonal, sometimes toughening and expanding into Blakey-esque dimensions—while bassist Josh Ginsburg’s graceful solidity and pianist Taber Gable’s flexible yet directional attack heighten the feel of purposeful play.

Too often, though, there’s a “prettiness” to the proceedings that verges on the cloying. Melody lines sound candy-coated; the pastel shadings of the dual sax harmonies sound more like a backing track for a New Age retreat than a summons to a quest. On alto, Louis can rise to some bracing challenges when he chooses to, but he mostly seems to use the delicacy of his gait to circumvent risks, rather than confront or resolve them; Pukl is capable of negotiating sharp angles and taking leaps and flights with no net, but the unrelievedly legato nature of many of his solos heightens the overall feel of lassitude. Given the high level of musicianship on hand, there’s enough imaginativeness to keep things interesting; nonetheless, this is hardly the stuff of “warriors”—one often feels, to paraphrase Hemingway, that this ensemble is substituting motion for action. Or, to put it in more conventional jazz terms, the indispensable element of tension and release has somehow transmogrified into the paradox of all release, no tension.

The nadir is probably the set’s overly lush closer, “Let It Go,” in which guest vocalist Ulrich Edorh intones a litany of aphorisms (“Hope the darkness will not stay / This too will surely pass in time … We can realize our dreams … Let it go, you have to let it go … ”) that might have embarrassed Ram Dass. As any warrior should know, peace that isn’t hard-won can result in little more than torpor.

Preview or download Warriors for Peace on Amazon!

David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.