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Joel Ross - nublues (Blue Note)

9 February 2024

On his new album nublues, vibraphonist Joel Ross sets expectations early. Following a bravura take on John Coltrane’s “Equinox,” he segues subtly, almost subliminally, into his original “mellowdee,” which starts frisky but evolves into a bluesy slow burn. The comfort with which Ross makes that transition, leavened by regular gigs, is indicative of the pace and personality of his fourth LP: no longer feeling the need to prove himself, he’s able to settle into his role as composer, bandleader, and music maker. Using the blues as his base and his working band (saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, pianist Jeremy Corren, bassist Kanoa Mendenhall, drummer Jeremy Dutton, and guest flautist Gabrielle Garo) as support, Ross relaxes into a variety of tunes and arrangements, from the high-energy Thelonious Monk tune “Evidence” and the balladic “what am I waiting for?” to the soothing “chant” (a duet with Garo) and the freeform title track. After years of shows and records, Ross’s band sounds like an extension of his will, though not so much that they’re not capable of throwing a surprise or two at the boss. Ross sounds confident in his ability to maintain control without exerting it, and nublues shines as a result.