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Joel Ross: The Parable of the Poet (Blue Note)

A review of the vibraphonist's third Blue Note release

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Joel Ross: The Parable of the Poet (Blue Note)
The cover of The Parable of the Poet by Joel Ross

While it’s no surprise that Chicago-to-Brooklyn transplant Joel Ross is a smooth-operating protégé of fellow vibraphonist Stefon Harris, it is shocking how far Ross has gone beyond that initial influence. After romanticizing postbop traditionalism on his two earlier Blue Note recordings, 2019’s Kingmaker and 2020’s Who Are You?, the vibraphonist/composer crafts a sweeping, spacious suite of seven movements with this Parable.

Ross once again welcomes alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins to his impressionistic setting and, together with trumpeter/one-time boss Marquis Hill, they create a wall of noirish sound—like Jerry Goldsmith’s Chinatown score sprinkled with holy water. On occasion, Ross’ teaming with Wilkins gives a deep and abiding nod to latter-day, spiritualized Coltrane. The first movement, “Prayer,” and the closing “Benediction” benefit especially from such communalism, humming like a cantor’s moan.

The elegiacally slow and undulating “Choices” starts as a team in eight-player unison and breaks down into quiet chaos before the last teardrop falls. A subtone-blown tenor saxophone line from María Grand and a dramatic trickle from pianist Sean Mason lift the repetitious melody from its solid, staid place. The Moebius-strip syncopation from Grand, a player handsomely highlighted throughout, is another delightful lyrical element, and one made flightier still by flutist Gabrielle Garo. 

Going back to Chinatown, Wilkins and Ross make “Wail” and “The Impetus (To Be and Do Better)” into something twilit and truculent. Here and there, a detective film’s motives are hidden within another detective film’s motions, like The Thin Man wound through Farewell, My Lovely with Ross’ vibraphone always ringing twice. And then some.

Learn more about The Parable of the Poet on Amazon!

Originally Published