Collusion, their third album, marks the return from a brief hiatus of the New Orleans-based quartet, The Session. The four members got their start with Jason Marsalis’ Vibes Quartet, but soon found synergy amongst themselves. They are bassist Jasen Weaver, trumpeter Steen Lands, pianist Andrew McGowan and drummer Darrian Douglas. All but Douglas share in writing the ten originals. As you can tell, it’s an instrumental album but it has its share of politically oriented tunes but some others as well.
Tracks such as “Kelly Ann Con Artist”, and “Bigly” are the two blatantly political titles. “Kelly Ann,” composed by Weaver, protests lies and manipulation on the part of Senior Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, and is accordingly rendered with a mix of dark lines and abrupt changes. Named after the infamous Donald Trump quote, “Bigly”, a bouncy and boisterous swing tune, seques into a waltz, seemingly characterizing its humorous title and features a standout solo by bassist Weaver.
The disc opens with “Monk Dancing on the Levee”, is a lighthearted tune that merges the quirkiness of Thelonious Monk and the jovial spirit of New Orleans. Volleys of both swing and syncopation bear Monk’s stamp before the piece reaches its apex in the stunning dialogue between pianist McGowan and bassist Weaver as well as Douglas’s drumming. It’s clear from the outset that these are immensely talented individuals. Here, as throughout the disc, Land’s trumpet soars and glides above intricate patterns laid down by the three in the rhythm section.
McGowan’s “6/8 Tune” completely changes the mood as he moves to Fender Rhodes and the band offers up a spacey, beautiful fusion-like ballad. “Terms of Surrender” is another lush ballad with great use of space within a melody of mystery and drama. Again, Lands’ trumpet tone is robustly clear and penetrating. “Five Fingers of Death” is a punchy tune, featuring many syncopated jabs and dialogues between all four members. “The Return of The Session” is a gorgeous waltz which builds into a mesmerizing ostinato in the rhythm section. The sense of rhythm, dynamics, economical solos and facile changes are brilliant through each of these pieces.
Groove and soul hold sway in the latter part of the disc, first with “Price of the Dream,” and deeper into soul music with “Kolmas Linja” as McGowan returns to the Fender Rhodes, coaxing some guitar-like sounds from it, as Weaver lays down electric bass lines and Lands’ floats in with his trumpet. The NOLA influence grabs hold of the concluding “This Blues” as the quartet gets down and dirty.
While Collusion demonstrates The Session’s commitment to offer a reflection and insight into today’s socio-political climate through jazz, one can only hope more protests were conducted with so much beauty and grace. This is exciting, varied music, replete with unexpected turns and exquisite musicianship.
- Jim Hynes