PORTRAITS | CD Baby
“For more than 40 years, Joseph Daley has maintained a sterling reputation as a consummate sideman, bringing his exceptional low-brass talents to the music of a stellar array of heavyweight artists, including Sam Rivers, Gil Evans, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley and Taj Mahal. Three years ago Joseph celebrated his 60th birthday by taking an entirely different direction, revealing his extraordinary abilities as composer/arranger.
His first album, The Seven Deadly Sins (2011) for an extended jazz orchestra of 24 pieces, was followed by The Seven Heavenly Virtues for string orchestra in 2013. Both albums received overwhelming acclaim from both critics and musicians, establishing Joseph as a major force among contemporary composers. His newest album Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love will only further extend that growing reputation which has compared him to immortals like Ellington, Strayhorn, George Russell and Charles Mingus.
Like Virtues– on the five movement suite that comprises more than half the album, WISPercussion/Five Portraits of Warren Smith, with a handful of special guests added for the three remaining pieces.
The focus of this major work, percussion master Warren Smith is the featured soloist throughout the suite, and also contributes mightily on the rest of the album. Smith, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday – and maintains a teaching and performing schedule that would be challenging for a person half his age – has built a reputation as one of the most creative, versatile and sensitive percussionists in his 60+ years of activity with a staggering range of artists including Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Lena Horne, Van Morrison, Harry Partch, Leonard Bernstein and scores of others. Here, Joseph has composed a stunning homage, featuring Warren’s remarkable musicality on vibraphone, marimba, tympani, gongs and trap drums sequentially on each movement.
There’s really no point in trying to describe the music by focusing on this melodic line or that solo. The music is a seamless whole – fiery, uplifting, exciting, stimulating, both vehemently rhythmic and evocatively atmospheric; startling at times, soothing at others….but always powerful, transcendent and breathtakingly beautiful. The music draws from an extended palette of influences and styles – 12-tone, Brazilian, African, Classical romanticism, impressionism, jazz from swing to avant-garde (and closes with a foray into Gypsy music that would bring both Django and Bartok to their knees). Despite the array of sources, the music is always cohesive and confluent, perfectly constructed and visualized into the singular focus of its creator.
This suite is as vast and powerful as an ocean, with Warren’s solos coloring, punctuating and highlighting; sometimes thrusting ahead like a relentless swimmer, and emerging at others like a dolphin soaring above the waves in joyous celebration of its life and essence. His statements are captivating in their lyricism, not only on melodic instruments like the vibes and marimba, but also on tympani, gongs and traps – partly due to the tuning, but even more so by the depths of Warren’s impeccable musicianship. The blending is seamless, whether Smith is playing parts within the orchestral context or improvising – essentially creating an astonishing duet between the two men on their respective instruments – Warren with his percussion and Joseph with his orchestral vision.
The remaining three pieces are fully realized orchestral compositions, brilliantly conceived and – like all of the music on this marvelous album – flawlessly executed by the ensemble. For these three pieces, the string orchestra is augmented by three diversely disciplined percussionists – Jerry Gonzalez, Satoshi Takeishi and Richard Huntley – while Onaje Allan Gumbs joins the album’s pianist Lafayette Harris, with both men adding electric piano to Harris’ acoustic.
Two of the pieces are, like Wispercussion, forged in the portrait mode that Joseph began on his Virtues album. Shadrack/Portrait of Bill Cole is a dedication to the remarkable multi-instrumentalist in whose ensemble Joseph has been performing for some 40 years. Bill is featured here on the Indian double-reed nagaswaram, whose sinuously penetrating sound swirls vividly throughout the exotic piece, providing the core element in its incandescent radiance. Akua Dixon’s cello adds a sarangi-like flavor, providing a delicious dissonance and highly compelling emotional impact to a piece that manages to be both explosive in its intensity, but exquisite in its beauty.
Doretha and the Blues/Portrait of Wanda Daley is a paean of love to Joseph’s beautiful wife of 43 years. Its winsomely gentle, melodic line flows lovingly in its development, strings atmospherically shadowing the center, before melding into a down home blues mode with Charles Burnham’s violin singing somewhere between Stuff Smith and Sugarcane Harris. Joseph’s orchestration is both densely sumptuous as Mingus and as lean and mean as Lightnin’ Hopkins.
The album closes with Industria, a variation on Diligence from The Seven Heavenly Virtues. Taken at a slower, strikingly deliberate pace, Smith’s tympani blends with Elektra Kurtis’ plaintive violin leading the organically evolving strings into a force of relentless motion. It moves like a spectacular lava flow – irresistible, mesmerizing, blazing, but oh, so incredibly beautiful. The twin basses of Ken Filiano and Ben Brown add viscerally to the darkly luminous texture.
A scintillating finale to a magnificent album. While Joseph Daley is truly a composer in the grandest Jazz tradition, his music could – and should – be gracing the concert stages of the world’s great orchestras. His music is utterly innovative, yet never abandons the composer’s quest for beauty. This is the third of a ten album series that Joseph plans to issue by his 70th birthday. With his first three, he has already forged a permanent place in the splendid orchestral legacy of Jazz.”