Jamie Ousley – A Sea of Voices – T.I.E. Records

by | Jan 23, 2012 | Jazz CD Reviews

Jamie Ousley – A Sea of Voices – T.I.E. Records TIE1276, 56:37 ****:
(Jamie Ousley – doublebass, producer; Joe Davidian – piano; Austin McMahon – drums, cajon; Nanami Morikawa – vocals (track 4); Gabriel Saientz – piano (track 10); Carlomagno Araya – percussion (tracks 5, 7)
Bassist Jamie Ousley’s latest outing, A Sea of Voices, is both a traditional jazz undertaking and a non-traditional one. The nearly hour-long album contains ten tracks of mainstream, contemporary jazz (mostly by Ousley’s touring trio). But there are also unique items, such as a bass/vocal duet treatment of folk title “Shenandoah” (Dick Hyman and Bill Frisell have done this tune, among others, but the piece is far from a jazz standard); and a Coldplay cover (Niels Lan Doky and Taylor Eigsti have also performed music by the British pop band, but Coldplay music is also far from the jazz norm). Additionally, A Sea of Voices is a not-for-profit project to benefit the environment through Sunshine State Interfaith Power and Light, whose mission is to mobilize faith communities in Florida to care for creation.
Respecting the record’s ecological focus, more than half the material shares a water or water-related theme. Ousley starts with his self-penned composition, the sprightly “Hymn of Tides,” which features Joe Davidian’s sinuous piano, Austin McMahon’s subtle brushes and cymbals and Ousley’s intimate doublebass. The arrangement is comparatively direct, moving from a cool introduction centered on drums and piano to an eventual build-up with a whirling and progressive development near the end. Davidian’s arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean” commences in a thoughtful, balmy way but before long alters to a rollicking section before changing to a relaxed cadence where Ousley’s bass solo showcases his talent (he’s a professor of jazz bass at Miami’s Florida International University and is considered one of South Florida’s best jazz musician’s). Ousley shifts to picturesque arco bowing to launch a slow, emotive reading of Coldplay’s “Swallowed in the Sea.” The trio concentrates on the exquisite melody, emphasizing the cut’s introspective quality, and intuitively alludes to the lyrical elements of doubt, fear, hope and love. “Swallowed in the Sea” is paired next to a similar Ousley original, the romantically contemplative ballad “Loving Beauty,” which also displays the threesome’s poetic sensitivity and instinctual communication. A rough mix from the recording session can be heard here.
Ousley and his group also tackle tunes from the American folk/country songbook. Country/bluegrass hit “Rocky Top” has a distinctly non-country slant which strays far from its mountain roots. Guest percussionist Carlomagno Araya adds an underlying, ticking rhythmic ambiance but mostly “Rocky Top” highlights Davidian’s graceful but driving piano, Ousley’s prominent bass and McMahon’s rousing drums. More notable is the tender bass/vocals duet arrangement for “Shenandoah,” with guest singer Nanami Morikawa (who deserves more recognition stateside), which gains an exotic strength from both Morikawa’s ethereal English to Japanese singing and Ousley’s poignant arco bowing (which accentuates the lyric’s sense of longing).
A Sea of Voices is a splendid endeavor of excellent, evenhanded jazz with a very consistent sound, tone and thematic organization. The music and arrangements have a sympathetic ebb and flow and the important common cause related to the environment is an inspiring bonus which hopefully can in some small but vital way benefit Ousley’s chosen charity.
Hymn of the Tides; How Deep Is the Ocean; Steam; Shenandoah; Rocky Top; Loving Beauty; Swallowed in the Sea; With You; Holy Water; Alfonsina y el Mar.
– Doug Simpson

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