His core quintet is as tight as one could hope and his list of guest artists is like having great depth on a great baseball club. “Now batting for Hank Aaron…Willie Mays!” With Shore is Gilad Hekselman on guitar, Dayna Stephens on tenor sax, the always fascinating Aidan Carroll on bass, and the brilliant Colin Stranahan on drums. The guest list includes Godwin Louis on alto sax (tracks 2 and 4), Noah Preminger on tenor sax and clarinet (tracks 8 and 9), Michael Mayo and Alexa Barchini on vocals (track 5), Kurt Ozan on guitar, dobro and pedal steel (track 9), Jorge Roeder on bass (track 7), Samuel Torres on percussion (track 7), and Michael Thomason clarinet, bass clarinet, and alto flute (track 3).
Yeah. Hold on.
Most of the compositions are written or co-written by Shore himself with one or two exceptions. And like an Earl Weaver or Tony LaRussa, he puts the right player in the right role at the right time.
The album opens with Our Story Begins on a Mountain. The title was enough to intrigue but the piece itself was a wonder. Written by Shore but arranged by Edward Perez, the strings in the introduction are warm and serve as a fine prelude and accompaniment to Julian Shore’s piano. The movement of the melodic line is fascinating, enthralling. The piano with orchestral background is touching.
Which Way Now? is well-placed in the track list, as if to say “Well, that piece was warm and lovely. Now what?” Instead of changing directions, however, Shore brings the full quintet to bear plus guest Godwin Louis on alto sax. The piece is co-written by Shore and Jean Caze.
Aidan Carroll (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums) are immediately noticed, as they are anytime they play. Shore proves why he is one of the piano keystones of this generation of New York City Jazzers. Hekselman’s guitar work is in great keeping with the pace and tone set by Shore. The saxophones of Dayna Stephens (tenor) and Godwin Louis (alto) are a blessed blend of tone and fluidity from both. Together they create a gorgeous moment and Godwin’s alto solo is extremely fine. Nice for the title track because it is truly one of the highlights of a great album.
Back Home is back to the core five artists. The cool strumming of Hekselman’s guitar opens the piece with the piano softly added. Guest Michael Thomas assumes the lead on baritone clarinet with rich, lush expression and between piano and baritone clarinet there is a beautiful interplay that develops. Shore has got the goods. Michael Thomas weaves in the clarinet and flute which adds a finely threaded enhancement to the collective sound.
But make no mistake, it is Julian Shore who is at the heart and center of all that transpires here. His composition and arrangement created the music that these brilliant artists masterfully perform.
Moss, Mansion, Sandstorm brings Godwin Louis back for his second and final appearance. Again, the alto and tenor saxes are stunning together and apart. Pay attention to Aidan Carroll’s bass with Colin Stranahan’s drums in the introduction. Something fine going on there. Hekselman touches in and out lightly on guitar as Shore works his magic. The structure of the piece is intriguing and the execution is flawless. Such sweet movement.
Alpine is a solo piano piece with vocals from Michael Mayo and Alexa Barchini. Their voices are so complementary and their delivery is so precise that the voices almost create a trio with the piano. Very short but very well done. It forms a fine intermission—almost—for the mid-point of the album. Shore proves himself a proficient vocal composer as well.
Across the Ice brings the quintet back together. The sax is lovely and a bit haunting. This is a melody to love. Of course, the rhythm section continues to fascinate even as Stephens’ sax soars above. This may very well be Stephens’ best moments on the album and that is saying a lot. Hekselman gets in on the action with an extraordinary addition of his own to the melodic lines. Beautiful execution on his part. And Stranahan smokes the daylights out of the final moments of the piece. Well-written.
Con Alma is a Dizzy Gillespie classic number…until Julian Shore is finished with it. It is a fine tribute to Shore’s arranging talent and skills that takes this venerable piece and reshapes it into something that sounds like it was something written for this very album. Jorge Roeder’s bass lines are perfection and Stranahan is his same nimble self, alongside the amazing Samuel Torres on percussion, while Shore’s piano takes the piece and makes you forget you ever heard the horn of…Dizzy? Dizzy who?
Shore co-wrote All Heart with Noah Preminger who makes his first appearance on this track with clarinet. The song is warm and even tender. It is a short elegy by just Shore and Preminger and it is gorgeous.
Pine Needles brings aboard Kurt Ozan on guitar and dobro as Preminger remains and are joined by Carroll and Stranahan. It is a touch of Americana in a Jazz world. Preminger channels his roots with the rest as they work the piece beautifully between New York and Nashville. Got to admit, this one caught me by surprise. In an album entitled Which Way Now?, this direction is as believable and appropriate as any other. The tones and phrases and movement are captivating.
Lullaby is based on a fragment of Faure’s Clair de Lune (No, not the Debussy one). The melody is, of course, exquisite and is finely crafted by the hands of the artists. The piano and tenor sax are sweet together. The fade-out to the song, and the album, leave a stillness and peace that is palpable.
Julian Shore explained that he “wrote with the members of my band in mind” and “there came a point in the process of the record where I entrusted the music to them, knowing it would flourish in their hands.” That is what makes a leader.
Which Way Now? is proof of Julian Shore’s leadership skills in a Jazz band. He wrote incredible music, performed his piano brilliantly and let the band make their own artistic contributions based on their own considerable talents. I said it before and I’ll say it again, it is Julian Shore who is at the heart and center of all that transpires here. His name belongs among the leaders of the young Jazz piano scene.
Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl