The Vinyl Anachronist weighs in on Jack Kilby and the Front Line

Monday, December 31, 2018

Jack Kilby and the Front Line’s Love is a Song Anyone Can Sing

Ask and ye shall receive. In this case it’s jazz ensembles led by drummers, and there’s been quite a few of these recordings in my mailbox over the last couple of months. I’ve mentioned many times that I love these ensembles for their innate drive and momentum and now, on the cusp of the new year, I might declare this as a new, wonderful thing. The story here is this particular drummer-leader, one Jack Kilby, is only 29 years old, and that he leads a group of gentlemen who represent multiple points in time within jazz history. Kilby comes out of the jazz program at the University of Virginia, and he possesses that confidence a young man like this must have in order to make it in this scene with all those vets looking on. That’s the only way to debut, to come out swinging and sounding like you’ve been doing this for decades.

On Love is a Song Anyone Can Sing, Kilby immediately sets down a beat that acts as a business card, one that says everything is going to be all right, you’re in good hands. Kilby is so confident, in fact, that this work includes a Volume One, featuring Kilby’s core sextet, and a Volume Two that features a series of guest artists who “take the band and music to new heights.” This core sextet–tenor sax player Charles Owens, trumpeter John D’Earth, trombonist Elad Cohen, pianist Allyn Johnson and bassist Kris Monson–uses the title song as a jumping-off point and a frequent interlude to reinforce a theme of beauty and our ability to recognize it. It can be Micah Robinson’s voice, or a muted trumpet level or a quiet moment of improv from Monson or even a string quartet that delivers the spare melody and uses it as a touchstone for a collection of originals as well as a unique selection of covers.

Notice that I didn’t use the word standards. That title song, for example, sounds like a song you’ve heard a million times before, but it’s an original tune from Owens. You get nods to Hank Mobley (“Hipsippy Blues”) and a couple of Herbie Hancock tunes, but you also get a jazz version of Radiohead’s “Life in a Glasshouse” and an unusually moving jazz version of “Jupiter” from Holst’s The Planets. You get a few modern touches along the way, such as the ironic record surface noise in the intro and a few unexpected touches of percussion here and there, just enough to act as a reminder that Kilby is young and keen on innovation.

Even with this creative approach, Kilby is still an apt pupil when it comes to covering a lot of ground in the world of jazz. This six performers, along with their featured guests, have that instant rightness down pat, even when the sounds naturally expands in Volume Two and more performers inhabit the stage. For every new performer, there is an equally revelatory bit of history added to the mix, another context. Perhaps that’s part of the meaning of the title, that love is a song that anyone can sing, and to prove it we’re bringing in all these people who are full of love and can express it in a number of ways. That makes this ambitious debut from a young drummer and arranger even more impressive–it has the energy of a very basic idea going for it, and everyone involved understands it without a word.

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