Recapping the Best of 2011: Adam Cruz “Milestone”


Those first notes can have such a profound effect on how an album is received.  Take, for instance, Adam Cruz’s Milestone.  Cruz opens with soft but indelible drum bursts, joined soon after by the succinct yet evocative piano notes from Edward Simon.  Then Miguel Zenon and Chris Potter weave sax notes up and over the composition, building a sense of breathless over the grounding comfort of piano, drums, and bass.  From there, it just builds, but no matter how thrilling the sound becomes, I’m still thinking about those resonant opening notes.  This is the case, even after the album is over and the next begins.

Your album personnel: Adam Cruz (drums), Miguel Zenón (alto sax), Steve Wilson (soprano sax), Chris Potter (tenor sax), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Edward Simon (piano, Fender Rhodes), and Ben Street (bass).  Zenon and Wilson don’t play on every tune.

Milestone is Cruz’s debut album under his own name, but he’s been around the scene for awhile, and like any talented professional, he gets right down to business and doesn’t stop until it’s all over.

That first track “Secret Life” is absolutely brilliant, one of the tunes of the year.  It begins so alluringly, then builds in intensity with saxophones.  Then Cardenas slips in on guitar and guides the composition from its peak into a speedy glide and soar, a sensation that continues even after the ensemble joins all back in together.

That thrilling sound continues on right into the second track “Emje.”  Even Cruz’s nifty odd meters halfway through the tune do more to enhance it than alter the emotional direction.

Another outstanding album track is “The Gadfly”, which begins like a game of hopscotch… quick rhythmic patterns with sudden directional changes.

About a third of the way through, guitar brings some fire to the tune and tempo increases like its feeling the heat.  Drums and piano get into a fight and relentlessly throw combinations of punches at one another.  When saxophones step in to break it up, the tune loses none of its fight, getting stronger in fact, building up to a huge finish.

There’s a nice mix of tempos on the album, though the ensemble runs more than it walks.  The third track “Crepuscular” gives a sense of both without quite doing either.  Most tracks are nice modern hard bop, though some have free(r) jazz elements to them.  But mostly, it’s just great straight-ahead fare.

The final album track begins much as the first did… drums and piano with enchanting notes that hint at a quiet intensity that could explode at any moment.

It’s that same quiet intensity displayed throughout Milestone that has me so damn hooked on this recording.  I like it when a musician reflects power through emotion rather than volume.  Also, there is the suspense building that occurs with quiet intensity, an anxious waiting for when the top does finally blow (if at all) that doesn’t necessarily end just because the album does.  In fact, it’s that element that keeps bringing me back to a particular recording… maybe this album will explode this time around.

Adam Cruz assembled an all-star lineup for this album.  Keeping those disparate voices cohesive and getting them to all buy in to the album leader’s vision can be a daunting task for anybody.  That Cruz has pulled this off for his debut album is an impressive accomplishment.  Cruz ain’t no rookie on the scene, and his rep stands side by side with all of the album personnel, but still, when it’s your name that appears front and center on the album cover, that adds an additional pressure that can’t be blithely dismissed.  Cruz really pulls it off here, and Milestone is more than deserving of recognition as one of the top albums of 2011.

Released on the Sunnyside Records label.  Jazz from NYC.

Stream the entire album on his bandcamp page, as well as purchase it in a number of different file formats.

Available on Amazon: CD | MP3