Most writing about pianist Justin Kauflin recaps his bio: the loss of his eyesight at 11, his early mentorship by the late Clark Terry (chronicled in the documentary Keep On Keepin’ On), and his championship by Quincy Jones, who signed Kauflin to his Qwest label and produced his 2015 album Dedication. The résumé is still important, albeit mainly to confirm that Kauflin has been making good on his promise. He’s had several years in which to fine-tune his voice as a player and composer, to transcend the backstory, and although this is only his third official release as a leader, in many ways it feels like the first on which Kauflin is truly telling his own story.
Produced by Jones and Derrick Hodge, Coming Home finds the artist stretching conceptually and sonically, on his own compositions and the few smart covers he takes on (Sufjan Stevens, John Lennon). Working with guitarist Alan Parker, bassist Chris Smith, and drummer Corey Fonville, Kauflin falls into a moody groove on the album-opening title track and rarely kicks it up more than a notch or two from there. He’s more interested, on Coming Home, in setting and maintaining moods and patterns, via both acoustic and electric instrumentation, than he is in virtuosic displays.
On the spacey “Present Day,” one of the originals, Kauflin is content to repeat the same chord configuration, zigzagging from left to right and back again, while Fonville does the heavy lifting. The two takes on Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields,” band and solo, cast it as two distinct songs. Coming Home is a very different Justin Kauflin than we’ve heard before. It’s a definitive statement; he named it that for good reason.Originally Published