Justin Kauflin, piano – Dedication (2015) – Qwest Records/ Jazz Village

Justin Kauflin, piano – Dedication (2015) – Qwest Records/ Jazz Village JV579003, 60:45 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) [1/13/15] ****:

(Justin Kauflin – piano, keyboards; Billy Williams – drums; Christopher Smith – bass; Matt Stevens – guitar; Etan Haziza – nylon guitar)

Some feel that jazz is a dying art and in some ways I agree; however, it is always nice to be surprised by a newcomer who makes a positive splash—and that is what Kauflin does.  The first thing I noticed about this disc it is produced by the one and only Quincy Jones (lifting my expectations for the quality of the music up quite a bit).  The next was that Justin appears on the front cover with a seeing-eye dog begging the question: Is he blind or seeing-impaired?  The answer to this question is “yes.”

Kauflin spent the first decade with training of the violin and piano and soon was performing in various venues (at a young age).  He lost his vision by age 11 and struggled to learn the necessary tools to adjust to his loss.  He switched to jazz piano and was performing again at the age of 15 with the Jae Sinnett Trio.  After graduation from high school he got found a mentor in Clark Terry and joined his Ensemble and played any time he could in NYC.  He released his first record at age 23, won a few different awards for his music and began touring internationally with Quincy Jones’ world tour from 2013 to 2014.  After being signed to Jones’ record label he began work on this album. [He appears with teacher Clark Terry in the new documentary movie Keep On Keepin’ On…Ed.]

This record shows sign of maturity, solid composition and a powerful understanding of jazz as a form of expression.  All songs are composed by Kauflin.  The music is straight ahead, upbeat and never boring or uninspired.  Some of Kauflin’s influences include Mulgrew Miller, Harold Mabern and Ornette Coleman.  The first two I can imagine creating music of the type contained on this record, while nothing ever gets as adventurous or “far out” that I normally associate with Coleman.  Three of the tracks are performed as a trio, one as a solo and the rest as quartets (and are notated on the back cover).  One of the questions I ask myself while working on music reviews is whether I’d want to listen to a record again, over and over, immediately after the first listen, never again, etc.   This is a record that beckons to be explored by more than a single listen.  Just skip to track 11 to hear his powerful and touching solo piano performance.  This one is worth checking out.

TrackList: Elusive; B Dub; For Clark; The Professor; Epiphany; Tempest; No Matter; Where Are You; Up and Up; Lasting Impression; Mother’s Song; Thank You Lord.

—Brian Bloom

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