Thursday, January 24, 2013

Elijah Jamal Balbed's Checkin' In Today

Elijah Jamal Balbed caught at an earlier performance at the Smithsonian's Kogod Courtyard
One of the Washington DC area's most accomplished young musicians is saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed. At jams, performances with other artists and his own engagements, he has displayed a robust style displaying a musical maturity way beyond his years. He issued recently his first recording as a leader Checking In where he is joined by some of the DC area's most accomplished musicians including pianists Harry Appelman and Allyn Johnson, trumpeters Alex Norris and Donvonte McCoy, bassists Eric Wheeler and Zach Brown, guitarist Samir Moulay, and drummers Carroll Vaughn Dashiell III. 

Included are seven studio recordings from two sessions and a live performance from the Strathmore with a band that included Norris and Dashiell. Musically this is some fine playing in the vein of some of the classic Blue Note and Prestige recordings of the seventies by Wayne Shorter (whose Infant Eyes is interpreted), Booker Ervin, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and similar artists. The disc opens with the leaders own Macrophobia, which displays a a full tone that goes beyond his influences. It is followed by a wonderful rendition of Freddie Hubbard's tribute to his contemporary Booker Little, Lament For Booker, which allows everyone to stretch out. Norris is terrific here as is Appelman, flautist Brent Birckhead, and Balbed. The title track is the last one featuring the group with Appelman and Norris and a is a brash, bouncy performance.

Imanust (Tsunami spelled backwards) reminds me of some of Woody Shaw's very sophisticated compositions with bassist Brown taking a brief solo before the leader takes the forefront with Kush Abadey propelling things along. Keep Me From Fear was inspired by a poem by Brendan Ogg, who died way too young. It is a lovely ballad with Balbed opening in a feathery manner with guitarist Moulay complementing the opening statement. Throughout, pianist Johnson plays superbly where comping behind Balbed and others or in one of his beautiful solos. McCoy's trumpet is another pleasure to be enjoyed here, especially on his solo during Brief Encounters, followed by an excellent rendition of Shorter's Infant Eyes. 
The live recording For Minors Only strongly closes out Checking In. Balbed has received much praise   from (which selected this as amongst the finest Washington DC new releases of 2012) and the Washington City Paper (Best New Saxophonist in 2010). This writer has been impressed every time I have had the pleasure of seeing Elijah Jamal Balbed perform. This music swings, the arrangements are first-rate, the ensemble playing is terrific, and the solos are consistently inventive resulting in this marvelous debut album. This was crowd-funded through Kickstarter and available through and available as a download from itunes and other download sources as well as from cdbaby.

I write this and post this a few hours before Balbed leads a program devoted to one of his influences, Wayne Shorter, at the Kogod Courtyard at the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art. The program is a tribute to Wayne Shorter's 80th birthday year, and he will showcase Shorter's early works (prior to his tenure with Miles Davis). Balbed's group will include Alex Norris on trumpet, Samir Moulay on guitar, Harry Appelman on piano, Herman Burney on bass, and Billy Williams on drums. It is free and starts at 5:00PM and runs until 7:00PM. Food is available in the snack bar and there is a free drawing workshop  taking place at the same time where one can build a sketchbook from recycled materials. This workshop is in conjunction with the exhibition Abstract Drawings. Here is Elijah Jamal Balbed from a couple years ago performing one of songs Wayne Shorter wrote for Miles Davis.

I purchased Checking In

I cursorily proofed this but will do a more thorough proofing later.

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