Josh Lawrence: Triptych (Posi-Tone)

A review of the trumpeter's album dedicated to artist Wassily Kandinsky

Triptych by Josh Lawrence
The cover of Triptych by Josh Lawrence

Trumpeter Josh Lawrence is as straight-ahead as it gets—making it seem a little odd at first that he would dedicate a three-part suite to abstract expressionist Wassily Kandinsky. But then, jazz was at its most commercial when, like Kandinsky’s art, it was branded “degenerate” by the Nazi regime. Perhaps it’s appropriate after all.

“Lost Works” (labeled herein as “Compositions #1-3,” after lost Kandinsky paintings) is one of three suites on Triptych. It’s also the most cohesive. Two joyful swingers and a waltz ballad, all 32 bars, each have fine work by Lawrence, alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis, and pianist Luques Curtis. All three soloists submit album-best solos on “#2,” the ballad; drummer Anwar Marshall does the same on “#3.”

Another suite, “Earth Wind Fire”—inspired by the eponymous ’70s band—has one genuinely funky part (“Earth”). Lawrence even manages to sound eerily like EWF trumpeter Leslie Drayton. The other parts diverge. “Wind” uses Ahmad Jamal’s “Poinciana” groove, with a suitably sensitive piano part and quietly confident bass line; “Fire” is just that, hard-swinging postbop that Lawrence and Caleb Curtis set ablaze with their harmonized melody and forceful solos. This suite is a bit scattered.

The third suite, however, is deliberately scattered: Its three parts are the opener, the other two suites’ divider, and the penultimate track. Each has a breezy, melodic bounce, sounding for all the world like Gershwin standards—with Gershwin-esque titles like “We’re Happiest Together” to boot. In sequence, they would flow nicely; staggered, they seem incidental. Even more confusingly, its third movement, “Sunset in Santa Barbara,” is followed by EWF’s “That’s the Way of the World,” a faithful and soul-drenched rendition featuring organist Brian Charette but starkly distant from the EWF suite. Triptych is easily digestible and fun, if you don’t try to make sense of it.

Preview, buy or download Triptych on Amazon!