By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Clarity
In the beginning, jazz was a “blue-collar” profession. Most artists hadn’t earned more than a high school education; some went on the road without even that degree, although many continued studies after completing their early careers. That isn’t the case today; artist biographies often contain references to colleges and universities that offer advanced degrees up to the doctoral level.
Consider the sextet Clarity: Every member has one or more degrees, and each is associated with advanced teaching institutions, as a member of the faculty at organizations throughout the country.
Pianist Michael Kocour is an associate professor and Director of Jazz Studies at Arizona State University, in Tempe; he also holds a degree in mathematics from the University of Illinois. Woodwinds player Will Campbell is Director of Jazz Studies and Associate Director of Saxophone at the University of North Carolina. Saxophonist Matt Olson is associate professor of saxophone, and Director of Jazz Studies at South Carolina’s Furman University.
Trumpeter Vern Sielert has a PhD and teaches at the University of Idaho. Bassist Jon Hamar teaches at Central Washington University, Northwest University, and Edmonds Community Colleges in Washington. Drummer Dom Moio also is on the faculty at Arizona State University, along with a position at Mesa Community College.
On top of which, all of these guys have worked with many, many name artists.
This, Clarity’s debut album, features a blend of bop and straight-ahead jazz; all concerned excel at it. The 12 tracks are composed/arranged by the various members of the band. With respect to meter, there’s something for everyone: “Unhinged” is a hard bop flag-waver, and “Watch Out of the Way” is another burner. “Clarity” and “Leaving Soon” are ballads, and the rest are mid-tempo swingers.
The melodic lines are memorable, and the ensemble passages are cohesive. The solo work is some of the best I’ve heard; these fellas are true masters of their instruments.
This is “thinking jazz”: what results when it’s done by artists who’ve spent their lives living with — and teaching — music that they obviously love.