Trumpeter Sean Jones has been making waves as a new talent since his debut on Mack Avenue, Eternal Journey back in 2003. Listeners have heard him improve over time with last year's Gemini and now Roots hits the streets. A casual listener may be tempted to place him alongside Roy Hargrove or Terence Blanchard, but Jones uses the neo-bop sound of the '90s as a more of a springboard than a model to emulate. In subtle ways, his trajectory has differentiated him from the artists under the too oft-used "young lions" label. He has a background in classical trumpet from Youngstown State University (near his hometown of Warren, OH) and a masters from Rutgers. To paraphrase Mark Twain, though, Jones's education is not limited to his schooling. His earliest musical memories include performing both gospel and classical music while in high school, and during his ascent, he was mentored by veterans Ralph Peterson, Charles Fambrough and Gerald Wilson. Jones's powerful playing on Wilson's New York, New Sound is what landed him his record deal with Mack Avenue.
The album's title cut has the crisply percussive flavor of R&B and shades of gospel (a strong theme throughout the disc). Orrin Evans's piano work is joyously earthy, and drummer Obed Calvaire shows a knack for tasteful yet funky "pocket" playing. Luques Curtis is a mature and supportive bassist (one would expect nothing less from a discovery of Gary Burton's). Jones's clarion tone is golden, glowing and confident. Tia Fuller's soprano sax sound meshes well with Jones in their harmony lines. "Divine Inspiration" finds Jones on flugelhorn and Evans on Rhodes. Some musicians might choose to accent the peculiarities of these instruments (the mellow roundness of the flugel or the quirky, slightly percussive warble in the upper register of the Rhodes), but the performance is actually quite restrained: Evans's solo contains some clever figures that tastefully use the Rhodes's color; Jones's flugel feature gives off incredible warmth. There is a hushed quality to "Come Sunday" with some subdued, hymn-like accompaniment from Evans. Jones leaps and swoops in his solo, always with grace and soul. Drummer Jerome Jennings appears here with some inspicuous but helpful brushwork. Evans's solo truly teases the listener with elegant understatement (think Red Garland's bluesy block chords with a hint of Bill Evans or Brubeck). "Puddin' Time" finds the quintet in more hardbop territory with a vampy, strut-like feel into a shuffle. Jones is in his element here, invoking a bit of down-home style with forthrightness that would make Wynton proud.
In fact, Jones's playing throughout the album is controlled and patient but no less passionate, and this is also a good metaphor for his career as a whole. He doesn't brandish new concepts, "foreign" influences or drastically different approaches with each of his albums; he just becomes more comfortable and lets his influences naturally color his playing. In an AAJ article by R.J. DeLuke in 2004, Jones reveals an ethos to which he's remained true:
I really admire the history of the instrument. I try to always give respect to that whatever I play and whatever I write. I try to incorporate some kind of history. Then there are those people that are more daring. They go into hip-hop aspects and R&B and they draw influences from that. So that's kind of cool too. I like it all, unless it's just out there and it's not really saying anything. But if there's some kind of message in the music, I'm for it.Read the whole article. As the album's title suggests, Roots is grounded and solid, but Jones clearly has wings, too.