Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jamie Ousley: A Sea of Voices

T.I.E. Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: A Sea of Voices

During recent years, we’ve been hearing more of a style I regard as “gentle jazz”: classically oriented music with relatively complex melodic lines, which nonetheless produces a definite sense of swing. I suspect this results, in part, from the significant increase in formal schooling available to today’s music students.

From the late 1920s through the ’60s, it wasn’t unusual for high school kids (and younger!) to obtain jobs with name bands; these days, I sometimes think everybody has advanced degrees from premier colleges such as Boston’s Berklee College Of Music and Miami’s University of Music. Such institutions generally include studies in the classics, as well as composition and arranging; that has major impact on the style students develop.

Jamie Ousley is a prime example of such an upbringing. Tennessee-born into a musical family, he picked out the melody to the Star Wars main theme when he was only 5; his parents immediately enrolled him in violin classes, but he switched to double bass at age 12. He attended graduate school in the University of Miami’s prestigious jazz program, and subsequently earned a doctorate in musical arts.

Although Ousley tours extensively, he spends most of his time playing and teaching in his home territory of Southern Florida.

This album finds Ousley supported by pianist Joe Davidian, drummer Austin McMahon and soprano vocalist Nanami Moridawa; pianist Gabriel Saientz and percussionist Carlomagno Araya guest on several tracks. Ousley wrote five of these 10 tunes, and arranged all of them. The wonderful old standard “How Deep Is the Ocean” and the traditional “Shenandoah” are highlights. The latter features a vocal by Moridawa, whose voice fits the tune perfectly.

Ousley uses a bow — a rarity in jazz — during some passages of Coldplay’s “Swallowed by the Sea.” Indeed, the interplay between bass and piano is particularly moving throughout this release.

This is first-class jazz: beautiful and, yes, gentle.

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