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John Yao Quintet: In the Now

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Trombonist-composer John Yao, a protégé of Luis Bonilla, makes an auspicious debut as a leader here, joined by saxophonist Jon Irabagon, keyboardist Randy Ingram, bassist Leon Boykins and drummer Will Clark. Together they enjoy a copasetic rapport on potent offerings like “Divisions,” which shifts in and out of a churning 12/8 Afro-Caribbean groove and double-timed 4/4 swing, and the ominous, organ-fueled groover “Funky Sunday.” The moody waltz-time ballad “For NDJ” has Ingram setting an atmospheric tone with Fender Rhodes and features Yao and Irabagon engaging in some intricate counterpoint against Boykins’ deep basslines and Clark’s supple brushwork.

The adventurous title track features Irabagon unleashing multiphonics and wailing into the altissimo register; Yao plays it more straight-ahead on his swinging solo. “Not Even Close” and “Pink Eye” incorporate an insistently swinging Jazz Messengers vibe while also stepping into the free-rider zone at times, and the tempo-accelerating “Snafu” may be Yao’s most original composition of the bunch. The trombonist reveals golden tones and lyrical tendencies on his stirring ballad “Shorter Days.”

Originally Published