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Josh Lawrence: Color Theory (Posi-Tone)

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Josh Lawrence: "Color Theory"
Josh Lawrence: “Color Theory”

The members of Josh Lawrence’s quintet are mostly from Philadelphia—none well known except Orrin Evans, all with New York chops. They are Caleb Curtis (alto saxophone, flute), Madison Rast (bass), Anwar Marshall (drums) and either Evans (piano) or Adam Faulk (Fender Rhodes).

Lawrence is an impeccable trumpet player with a glossy sound. Like all but a few jazz musicians under 40 in the world, he wants to write his own stuff. The concept behind this album is synesthesia, one form of which is the experience of music as color. Tunes include “Green,” “RED!,” “Black” and “Blue.” The relationships between songs and specific colors mean something to Lawrence; listeners will have to take these relationships on faith. Tracks alternate between energetic, intricate postbop structures and slow-to-medium forms. All are harmonically astute, well made and expertly executed. All are nice. None is sufficiently differentiated from the vast recent canon of compositions by under-40 jazz musicians to make it entirely memorable.

The most interesting moments come in tunes that depart from or expand upon the overall theme. “The Conceptualizer” is an homage to Wayne Shorter. It sounds like a Shorter/Lawrence collaboration. It has the former’s ambiguity and the latter’s polish. Evans’ solo is one of the most intriguing on the record, and gets beautifully entangled with Lawrence’s muted trumpet. “Purple (4 Prince)” was written on April 21, 2016, the day Prince died. As with all of Lawrence’s music, the touch is light. The elegy is more wistful than mournful. You can imagine Prince dancing on its gentle groove.

A nice touch is the way the same haunting trumpet call opens and closes the album. The spare melody of “Yellow” reappears at the end as “On the Yangtze,” harmonically deepened, elaborated by free-flowing trumpet/Rhodes improvisation. Lawrence’s skill set qualifies him to be placed on the Watch List.

Originally Published