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Kingsley Durant: Convertible
(Zen Diagram Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/8/2023)
Some fifty years after jazz musicians started plugging in, thanks to Miles Davis and colleagues, the jazz-rock fusion scene persists. The music runs from the cranked up, both volume wise and virtuoso-playing wise, to the mellow elevator music of the smooth jazz scene. While many of the surviving members of the original fusion movement have largely gone back to acoustic instrumentation, new players are coming along on a fairly frequent basis, some from the rock world exploring jazz, and some jazz players keeping it electric, and others going for a funkier groove.
This week we have a new album that sort of falls in between the energetic electric side and the mellowness of smooth jazz. It’s the latest from guitarist Kingsley Durant, and it’s called Convertible.
Kingsley Durant has an interesting background. A product of a very musical family, he is the oldest of five brothers, four of whom are musicians, and with several professional musicians on his mother’s side. Naturally, he gravitated toward music, starting on piano, trumpet, French horn and guitar at age eight, and playing in concert band throughout school, and studying music theory and composition in high school and college. In his teens he got into jazz, listening to Miles Davis, Weather Report and others.
The experience of his musical family, however, also taught him a lesson – his grandfather was a prominent church organist, but he had little in retirement savings. So Durant pursued a career in mathematics education, earning his Ph.D. and teaching at almost every level, from elementary through college. By the mid 1990s, Durant was writing the math exams given to thousands of students in standardized tests.
But Durant did not lose his passion for music and played whenever he could in pit orchestras and eventually putting together his own group. He also worked with film and TV score composer Michael Whalen, before releasing his first album, a largely acoustic recording that was picked up by New Age fans. He went electric on his next release, Point of Reference which we featured in this album review series in 2020.
Now Durant is out with Convertible an album of high quality fusion which, like his last release, is strong on the melodic content and ensemble playing, rather than being a vehicle for virtuosic guitar playing.
On Convertible, he is joined by a band of seasoned fusion players, including drummer Tom Brechtlein, who was part of the Chick Corea Electrik Band, bassist Roscoe Beck, and keyboard man Steve Hunt, who had a long association with guitarist Allan Holdsworth. Making a guest appearance is rock guitar luminary Eric Johnson. The result is a very enjoyable and listenable album that combines classy playing with hummable tuneful original compositions, usually with an infectious rhythmic groove, from funky to a bluesy shuffle to a kind of boogaloo.
Opening is a piece that is the epitome of the attractive sound of the album, its title track Convertible. It combines a great beat with a tuneful melodic line. While Durant gets to put in a tasteful solo, the tune emphasizes the ensemble playing. <<>>
The sound turns to the funky on a piece called Cobblestones. Drummer Tom Brechtlein and bassist Roscoe Beck, who plays acoustic bass on this tune, lay down a great groove with a bit of New Orleans gumbo. <<>>
On a piece called Viv’s Bounce the groove bounces between a boogaloo and a blues shuffle. Once again, adding a distinctive touch is Beck’s use of acoustic bass on this very electric tune. <<>>
Things slow down for a composition called Akiko on which Durant’s guitar solo really shines. <<>>
Guest guitarist Eric Johnson makes his appearance on a Durant composition called Funky Princess. Johnson lends his trademark sound in his solo. <<>>
A further facet of the album is shown on the short New Age influenced piece called Alice, a duo between Steve Hunt’s spacey synthesizers and Durant’s plantive-sounding guitar. <<>>
Marlow’s Mood evokes a little of the spirit of the late jazz guitar great Wes Montgomery, though it also has the kind of interesting harmonic structure reminiscent of Steely Dan’s style. <<>>
The album closes with a little Gospel influence on its lengthiest track Sister Suz featuring an extended solo by Durant, who usually keeps his solos fairly short. <<>>
Convertible, the new album by guitarist and composer Kingsley Durant, is an excellent followup to his 2020 release Point of Reference. It’s high quality jazz rock fusion that is marked by tasteful musicianship throughout and an appealing sound. The musicians on the album don’t have to show off their chops, so to speak, the playing is fairly understated, but it says a lot with strong melodic lines and faultless rhythmic grooves.
Our grade for sound quality is about a “B plus.” There is the unfortunately pervasive squashing of dynamic range through volume compression, and the recording does not h ave the sonic clarity of some of the better fusion albums.
Maintaining his professional career as a mathematician and educator, Kingsley Durant manages to find time to give us some first-rate fusion marked by some of the best qualities of the genre.
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