4. JOEL ROSS: THE PARABLE OF THE POET

Earlier this year, for a brief spell, I was not a hostage to time. A rare experience. Finally, momentarily, I had time for introspection and reflection. Looking back, I’m not sure I really made the most of it. However, it was during that period that I was introduced to the music of Joel Ross and, specifically, his album, The Parable Of The Poet. The time and space I had allowed me to truly appreciate what an outstanding piece of art this record is.

Of all the albums on this year’s Musical Advent, I would hazard a guess that The Parable Of The Poet is, along with Black Radio III, the most technically proficient. Ross has assembled a band – The Parables – that is peerless; a fact recognised by the bandleader. It may be his name above the shop, but he gives equal billing throughout to his collaborators. Thanks to that selflessness, we are able to fully enjoy the talents of Immanuel Wilkins (alto sax), Maria Grand (tenor sax), Marquis Hill (trumpet), Kalia Vandever (trombone), Sean Mason (piano), Rick Rosato (bass) and Craig Weinrib (drums). They are all given the space to flourish and bring their own distinctive voice to augment Ross’s incredible vision.

Of course, as one the planet’s foremost vibraphonists, as well as The Parables’ bandleader, Ross’s gorgeously deft touch is sprinkled everywhere. The perfect example occurs in the first few seconds of the album’s opening movement, Prayer. Flying solo, Ross’s vibraphone is the only sound that is heard in those first few minutes. It resonates and chimes delightfully before, one by one, the other musicians enter the room. Respectfully, conscientiously, gradually, easing their way into the track. It is quite perfect.

As it progresses, one is struck by how impactful these seven movements are. As I stated in my review for Louder Than War, they are simultaneously voluminous and intimate. I have already mentioned the opening to Prayer. It’s also worth drawing your attention to two other movements: Choices and Wail. The former opens with the dark and brooding tenor sax of Maria Grand, leading to a passage where the instruments seem to be circling each other. Conflict is looming. But then, no. It shifts, with Vandever’s trombone giving it the air of a New Orleans funeral. It is an astonishing composition, one of perfect counterpoint and contrast. Light and shade. Absolute chiaroscuro.

The triumph that is Wail explodes out of our speakers in a way that is reminiscent of Coltrane’s Resolution. Immanuel Wilkins’ alto is the driving force, literally wailing magnificently and emotionally. As it chaotically develops, Ross darts all over that vibraphone, seemingly at odds with Wilkins’ direction. It would unravel spectacularly were it not for Weinrib’s subtlety on the kit and when the Parables recognise that it is time to close the piece down, they do so elegantly. Everything slows gracefully and the movement is ushered out by a combination of Mason’s intricately picked piano and the mournful, glorious trumpet of Hill. The calm after the storm. 

I opened this short piece by talking about the time I had to immerse myself in The Parable Of The Poet. I am so grateful for that, because of all the albums I have listened to this year, this one demands investment. It is a body of work that requires an attentive ear. The moods created and the intricacy of the playing requires that, otherwise the risk is that it passes unappreciated. I implore you, take time for this one. Proper time. Really listen. I guarantee you will thank me for it.

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