The debut album by the winner of the 2012 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Drums Competition isn’t what jazz fans will expect. Jamison Ross, it turns out, is a singer as well, and on Jamison he’s a singer first. But once the confusion subsides, there remains lively, eminently listenable music with a kitchen-sink aesthetic.
The bookends are both slide-guitar blues: Rick Lollar’s electric innervates of Muddy Waters’ “Deep Down in Florida” and the two-part original “Bye Bye Blues” (actually more like gospel, complete with Cory Irvin’s organ). In between are original introspections (“Emotions” and the wordless-vocal “Epiphany”); a standard, “My One and Only Love,” given a Seal-ish neo-soul tincture; covers dressed in sweetness (the Grady Tate-associated “Sack Full of Dreams”) and soul (Carmen Lundy’s “These Things You Are to Me”); and two hard-charging, straight-ahead instrumentals.
Lollar, pianist Chris Pattishall (frequently voiced together) and bassist Corcoran Holt provide superb accompaniment throughout, tenor saxophonist Davye Stewart and trumpeter Alphonso Horne III fine obbligati and occasional solos-the former mournful on “Set Us Free,” the latter jaunty and resourceful on “Martha’s Prize.” There are four dazzling appearances by pianist Jonathan Batiste, too. But the real unifying element is Ross’ high tenor voice, whether mustering up power on “Bye Bye Blues” or prizing delicacy on “Emotions,” both of which he does with considerable aplomb.
Unquestionably, Ross’ singing obscures his drumming on Jamison; he underlines this by restraining himself on the traps. His subtlety, though, still proves his percussive worth. “Set Us Free” navigates rhythmic complexities without fanfare; the shuffle of “Deep Down in Florida” has the dexterity
of a card shark. Ross even manages a quiet, unaccompanied solo on the interlude “Jazz (Aubrielle Ross).” It feels like too little for a Monk Competition winner-but perhaps his forbearance is what drew the judges to Ross in the first place.