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Jamison Ross: All for One
by George Graham
(Concord Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/24/2018)
When you talk about the fusion of jazz and rock or jazz and pop, for many people of a certain age, that evokes electric jazz-rock fusion of the 1970s, or the so-called “smooth jazz” scene that has given us so much elevator music. This week we have a vocal album that is a cross between jazz and pop, and manages to do it in a thoroughly tasteful and appealing way. It’s the second release by singer-songwriter and drummer, Jamison Ross called All For One.
Jamison Ross is a native of Jacksonville, Florida, and started his studies of jazz while in high school, where his school ensemble was featured in a film called “Chops” which won a documentary award at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film was about the high school ensemble preparing to do a performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Ross the went on to college, getting his B.A. in Jazz Studies at Florida State, and then moved to New Orleans and got his masters at the University of New Orleans. His instrument was the drums, and in 2012, he won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. That got him a record contract, but Ross was looking to express himself as a vocalist and songwriter, and his 2015 debut album called Jamison was nominated for a Grammy Award in the jazz vocal category.
Now Ross is out with his second release called All for One, and although there is a fair amount of jazz influence on it, I would consider it to be more of a soulful, hip singer-songwriter record. Ross still plays the drums, but his appealing vocals are very much front and center. While the majority of the material is original, most of which he co-wrote with his guitarist Rick Lollar, there are some interesting choices for cover tunes, which include an Allen Toussaint composition, and even one by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin.
Ross is joined by a regular band he performs with, with Rick Lollar on guitar, Chris Pattishall on piano, Cory Irvin on organ and other electric keyboards, Barry Stephenson on bass, and Ross himself on the drums. Though the music can sound electric and rocky at times, the instrumentation is mostly acoustic, especially Stephenson’s bass. Often the music has a distinctly New Orleans feel., and there’s some Gospel influence in there as well.
The New Orleans flavor is apparent from the start. The opening track is a cover by the great New Orleans songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint A Mellow Good Time. The title sums up the mood of the song, with its infectious NOLA groove, played by Ross on the drums. <<>>
The first of the original songs is Unspoken which is an easy-going soulful love ballad, and nicely highlights Ross’ appealing tenor vocals. <<>>
The album contains a couple of songs from the jazz-standards book. One is Don’t Go to Strangers, which Ross and his band perform pretty much straight as a jazz ballad, with Ross taking more soul-influenced approach to the vocals. <<>>
On other hand, the composition called Away with its acoustic guitar is more like a folk song. The song is an apology to his kids for being away on the road so much. <<>>
Another of the highlights of the album in terms of being a song with wide appeal, is an original called Safe in the Arms of Love. Ross’ vocal performance is especially memorable, and the positive lyrics are hard not to relate to. <<>>
Somewhat more atmospheric in sound is an original titled Tears and Questions, which shows another facet of Ross and his music. <<>>
Another of the covers on the album is a great bluesy tune called All for Me, by the late Willie Tee of New Orleans, who led the Wild Magnolias. <<>> The track gives guitarist Rick Lollar a chance for a tasteful guitar solo. <<>>
One of the jazziest performances on the album comes on Ross and company’s cover of the Mose Allison standard Everybody Crying Mercy, a song which has been done in a lot of different styles. This version provides a new spin on the song. <<>>
The album ends with cover by Tin Pan Alley composers Gus Khan and Jimmy McHugh, Let’s Sing Again, which Ross gives a full Gospel treatment with the organ providing the sole accompaniment. <<>>
Drummer, composer and vocalist Jamison Ross’ new second album All for One is an excellent crossover project that applies an appealing pop sensibility and Ross’ easy-going soulful tenor vocals with a jazz undercurrent. Sometimes it comes close to a regular jazz singer doing standard songs, and at others it’s an interesting and creative stylistic blend. The arrangements are first-rate and very tasteful, never slipping into the cliches of smooth jazz, while featuring largely acoustic instrumentation in keeping with mainstream jazz. The album has a nice mix of well-written original songs with covers, though of less-frequently heard material. Ross’ time in New Orleans is apparent through much of the record with its approach to soul and the New Orleans grooves that are frequently heard.
For it audio quality, we’ll give the album close to an “A”. The sound is warm and inviting, especially the acoustic bass, and Ross’ vocals are captured with clarity and honesty. Dynamic range, how well the recording maintains the differences between the loud and soft, could have been better, but that’s par for the course these days.
Jamison Ross first distinguished himself as an award-winning jazz drummer, but on his new release, reinforces his reputation as a great singer-songwriter whose music can appeal to broad audiences.