A smooth jazz guitarist once told me an artist should only be as creative as they feel the need to be. While the much maligned jazz sub genre is still taking some hits the message would seem to be clear in that the depth of passion or in some cases lack thereof is up to the artist to translate as they see fit. In short, play in the moment. More passion and less academia.
The debut release from the John Yao Quintet is more than the start of an artistic odyssey for Yao. In The Now is a magnificent musical display of the passion of not just creating music in the moment but is a look at the development and application of the creative process of a incredible young talent and his horn. A sonic smorgasbord of hard charging post bop smokers to lyrically captivating ballads has In The Now as one of the true sleepers of 2012!
An incredibly rich sonic color palette is kicked off with "Divisions." Yao announces his presence with authority along with saxophonist Jon Irabagon with rhythmic intensity and lyrical direction that makes a most compelling and at times free form use of time and space without bordering on the self indulgent. The subtle nuances are of a first call rhythm section in Randy Ingram on keyboards along with Leon Boykins on bass and Will Clark on drums give an organic authenticity to the deceptively subtle grooves that are shaped throughout "Funky Sunday." Yao makes an impressive presence as a legitimate jazz triple threat here as instrumentalist, composer and arranger with all original material. The ballad "Shorter Days" has a mysterious and at times wistful theme yet Yao's command of this tune simply reinforces the impressive talents of a more than technically proficient and artistically gifted musician. Randy Ingram contributes a solo doubling as a sonic if not at times harmonic exploratory which reinforces the depth and character of Yao's talent as an incredibly skilled composer and arranger. This formidable quintet can shift harmonics on the fly and despite some odd meter never allow themselves to get caught up in the more self indulgent traps similar ensembles might find themselves. Closing with a deceptively funky post bop influenced "Snafu" there is a harmonically driven cohesion, a lyrical sense of purpose with Yao giving a trombone masterclass.
A solid and well thought out debut from a rising star, John Yao is a name to remember. Sonic texture, brilliant colors and moving beyond conventional form and function with purpose and direction has In The Now as a gem for 2012 and a release one should not overlook!