Mar 15 2014
Back in the day, when I was in the thick of my immersion of the jazz of the 1950s and 60s, I occasionally came up for air long enough to grab something from the modern day. One such album I still listen to frequently. The Language of Truth, the debut album by pianist Julian Joseph, had a tone and fluency that I found quite appealing, and which sounded very different than the bop that typically dominated my listening schedule. The album had a melancholy, meditative quality, which it maintained even when notes poured down in a tumult of activity, and this was something that connected me. It still does.
Your album personnel: Julian Joseph (piano, keyboards), Jean Toussaint (tenor & soprano sax), Alec Dankworth (bass), Mark Mondesir (drums), and guests: Sharon Musgrave (vocals) and Dee Lewis (vocals).
The opening track “Miss Simmons,” a solo Joseph piece, has a lively demeanor, yet emits an introspective calm from its center. It’s also ample evidence of the conversational tone this album adopts throughout, an easy lyricism that finds the right words at the right time, yet never feels compelled to try to impress with excessive verbosity.
“The Language of Truth” has a prowling cadence and a sax that yawns out notes with languorous delight, before building up with a bubbling personality. It gives hints of the purposeful treatment applied to the tempos, of strategically altering their trajectory in a way that results in a corresponding change in how melodies are shaped and how harmony reflects off its surface.
Most of the album tracks keep to the quieter side of things, but a few, like “Don’t Chisel the Shisel,” “The High Priestess,” and “Tyrannosaurus Rex,” each display frenetic tendencies… flurries of piano notes, drums and cymbals a torrent of percussion, charging at full speed to where feet no longer seem to touch ground. And though drummer Mondesir is relentless on these tracks, the way in which he synchs up with Joseph and directs the shifting tempos shows that his contribution is more than just a display of force.
“The Wash House” is upbeat also, but again, it possesses a quiet disposition that keeps things peaceful, accentuated by Joseph’s little bursts of melody shadowed by Dankworth’s bass. The jaunty “Brothers of the Bottom Row” keeps a light spring to its step, a catchy cadence easy to follow along with.
“Art of the Calm” features the quiet saxophone sighs from Toussaint, his tone matched by Joseph’s patient expressions on piano. It has a presence that instills a hush over a room, enveloping everything.
There are two vocal tracks on the album. Sharon Musgrave’s smoky delivery nails the bleak mood of Curtis Mayfield’s “The Other Side of Town.” Joseph has a nice solo turn, but it’s Toussaint’s accompaniment on soprano sax, coming in at perfect moments to accentuate the blues in Musgrave’s voice that is the song’s highlight. The second of the two features Dee Lewis’s vocals on “The Magical One,” and spotlights the shifting tempos that occur throughout this album, regardless of whether the rhythm section’s foot is heavy on the gas pedal or just cruising slowly along.
Just in the same way it got things started, the album ends with a Joseph piano solo. “Ode to the Time Our Memories Forgot” brings the affair full circle, ending with a contemplative piece that behaves as a resolution to the album’s opening sentences of “Miss Simmons.”
An album I’ve been an enthusiastic fan of for coming up on twenty years.
Released in 1991 on Atlantic Jazz.
Jazz from the UK scene.
The Safety Net, a Bird is the Worm series that highlights outstanding older albums that may have flown under the radar when first released and deserve to be revisited.