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Perhaps the vibraphonist of the moment, Joel Ross sublimates his oft-stunning technique on his instrument on his third album The Parable of the Poet in favor of emphasizing his skills as composer and bandleader. Recruiting an octet of pals, including fellow young guns Immanuel Wilkins and Maria Grand on saxophones, Gabrielle Garo on flute, Marquis Hill on trumpet and Sean Mason on piano, Ross guides them in bringing a suite of tunes to life through collective improvisation. This isn’t free jazz – Ross has a definite vision in mind for each piece, and directs the band accordingly. Tracks like “Guilt,” “Doxology (Hope)” and the gorgeously executed epic “Wail” don’t follow the common tradition of head-solo-solo-solo-head; instead everyone shares the spotlight in order to give the melodies themselves full attention. It’s as if each musician acts as a paintbrush filling in the canvas Ross has laid out for them, but they get to choose their own colors. There’s plenty of emotion as well – open and close cuts “Prayer” and “Benediction” let Ross channel his heart through his band into simply beautiful expressions. Ross has already impressed the jazz community with his playing through previous albums and performances; now The Parable of the Poet transmits his soul.
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