Logan Richardson is one of the most talented alto saxophone players in jazz under 40. With his previous recording, Shift, in 2016, it looked like he had hit the big time. The label was Blue Note. The band included Pat Metheny and Jason Moran. Blues People, on a smaller label, with four young unknown players (three from Kansas City, Richardson’s hometown, and one from Ukraine), is an unexpected move, apparently intended as a return to Richardson’s blues roots.
This is a thick sonic soup made from roaring and squealing guitars (Justus West, Igor Osypov), bludgeoning drums (Ryan Lee), and humming, droning electric bass (DeAndre Manning). Deep within the murky mix, Richardson’s alto wails, its piercing treble not always distinguishable from the keening of the guitars. In its rhythmic repetitions, its thunderous sonorities, and especially its grandiosity, this music has more in common with shred-guitar rock than jazz or blues.
Tracks are often too long and too much alike, but Blues People is almost saved by Richardson’s compositions. Songs like “Hidden Figures” and “Hunter of Soul” reveal his gift for haunting melody, which this clamorous ensemble always finds, borne on Richardson’s plaintive saxophone cries.
The piece that sums up this album—its assets, its liabilities, and its lapses in taste—is “Black Brown & Yellow.” The two guitars offer a surprisingly lush introduction, Osypov on acoustic. Then an unidentified overdubbed vocalist sings, cloyingly, over and over, “Black and brown and yellow is so beautiful.” The guitars obsessively exchange an inconsequential little figure. Richardson takes the melody, and it suddenly burns passionate and true. Then the ensemble begins to seethe and overwhelms him.