What’s New (and Good) from WJ3 Records

WJ3 Records is another of the cadre of the small, but mighty, jazz record labels that have cropped up in our post-CD society. Founded and helmed by drummer Willie Jones III, WJ3 releases around 3 – 4 new projects each year, featuring top flight mainstream jazz masters such as pianists Cyrus Chestnut and Eric Reed, L.A. based guitarist Jacques Lesure and Mr. Jones, himself. I first became hip to WJ3 about a decade ago, when I was assigned by a publication, to review a couple of their new releases. I can honestly say, that I’ve never heard a bad album from any of their artists.

Here now is a review of two recent WJ3 releases:

Jacques Lesure – For the Love of You

jacques lesureJacques Lesure…educator, actor, social media raconteur, and above all, master guitarist. Though his name is still unfamiliar to many, Mr. Lesure has been part of the music scene for over 30 years. With an inviting, single-note guitar line that is reminiscent of Grant Green, but infused with the warmth of a Kenny Burrell, Jacques Lesure, is always worth listening to, be it live or on one of his recordings, the last three of which have been on WJ3, including his latest, For the Love of You.

The title of the album should give you a hint about the vibe. Whereas his two prior efforts When She Smiles and Camaraderie, were fine, straight-ahead blowing sessions, For the Love of You,  is more accessible, but just as good; featuring several, mid-tempo romantic tracks, with titles straight out of pop radio. It’s a perfect antidote to a long day. Mr. Lesure is as always, in top form, as are his band mates, pianist Eric Reed, bassist Tony Dumas and WJ3’s chief, Willie Jones III, on drums.

Strong performances abound, including a bright, infectious version of “The Lamp is Low”, with a tasty solo by Mr. Reed; “Put On a Happy Face”, on which Lesure builds a simple starting line, layer by layer, into a very nice solo. His tribute to one of his musical idols, “That’s Mr. Burrell, Thank You”, is a head nodding, finger snapping blues, that is pure fun. It will be a definite crowd favorite during his live performances. The centerpiece is Cedar Walton’s anthemic classic, “Holy Land”. I’ve heard many versions of this tune over the years; this is one of the best. Following the familiar opening theme, Mr. Lesure digs down deep and delivers a blistering solo, which clearly inspires Reed, who then matches Lesure’s virtuosity in his turn.  Dumas and Jones take strong turns before all four musicians trade eights until the close.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars – Another first-rate album from Jacques Lesure. It will appeal to fans of all categories of jazz.

 

Willie Jones III – My Point Is…

willie jones iiiWillie Jones III is one busy cat, in addition to leading his own group and running WJ3 records, he also is a first call sideman and producer on numerous projects outside of his label. If he is spreading himself too thin, it certainly is not in evidence on My Point Is…, his seventh album as a leader. This protégé of Albert “Tootie” Heath, recorded this album with some of his own label’s top talent, who also happen to be some of the best in the current jazz world; trumpet master Eddie Henderson, the criminally underrated Ralph Moore on tenor, the legendary Buster Williams on bass and the soon to be legendary Eric Reed, on piano.

I first became a fan of Mr. Jones, when I reviewed his fourth album, The Next Phase. The first thing I noticed was Jones’ rock solid timing and that even on ballads, he swings like mad. Nothing in that respect has changed since 2010. Like two of my other favorite working drummers – Kobie Watkins and Ocie Davis, Jones has an innate gift for pushing the musicians playing with him, while still doing things that are unfailingly rhythmically interesting.

The selections are a nice mix of Jones’ originals, along with a few from the band and one each by Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock. “Manhattan Melodies” a Reed composition from about 20 years ago, open the disc on a high note. I’ve heard three versions of this tune over the years and this one is my favorite. The theme takes on new life in the hands of the two horn players, who punch it up with strong solos. Buster Williams’ ballad, “Christina”, offers a nice opportunity for a muted Henderson to remind us of the good ways that Miles influenced him. “The Maze”, a tune that Herbie wrote for his debut album, is given a fresh reading here. The sinuous backbeat set by Jones, followed by Reed’s funky solo, pulled me right in. Yes, I was sitting at the keyboard with eyes closed and head nodding. I see an interesting hip-hop sample in this track’s future. The title cut is the best thing on the album, with Williams and Jones feathering an intricate nest for some sweet mute work by Eddie and a rolling piano solo from Reed. This was, and still is, on heavy rotation in my playlist.

I’ve never gone wrong with a Willie Jones III album and My Point Is… is no exception. Solid writing, first rate playing and a final product, that is a fine example of modern jazz.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars. Another straight-ahead jazz winner from Willie Jones III and WJ3 Records.

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