Sunday, August 30, 2009
Diverse. What an atrocious name for a band! Not surprisingly, the group's song titles are similarly lame.
Those two objections aside, I absolutely adore the self-titled debut album by Diverse. In fact, it's my favorite jazz album recorded in the Kansas city area since Passages, the 2006 release by the late vocalist Gregory Hickman-Williams.
Diverse recalls the pleasant grooves of seventies albums by the Blackbyrds, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine and Grover Washington, Jr. Yet Diverse is anything but a throwback act. The rhythm section, for instance, often implies an keen awareness of hip hop.
Not every note in Bobby Watson's hands-off production is perfect, but everything seems entirely heartfelt and completely honest. It's the musical equivalent of a veteran basketball coach doing little more than tossing a ball on the court and telling his team to play hard. And the five young members of Diverse do just that. Each is an outstanding player, but it's the inventive efforts of drummer Ryan Lee and keyboardist John Brewer that contribute the most to the band's unique identity.
Diverse works best as a cohesive whole; no one moment is definitive. Still, fans of the classic Blue Note sound will be impressed by the opening line of "Vitality." It sounds as if it was pulled from an unreleased Kenny Dorham date. The melodic "B-Day Song" could be mistaken for a Robert Glasper cover of a Chick Corea tune. And Najee would applaud the breezy "Sojourner." The cumulative effect makes Diverse an ideal soundtrack for both backyard barbecues and intimate candlelit dinners.
Diverse doesn't play smooth jazz. But their jazz goes down smooth.
(Original image of Diverse trumpeter Hermon Mehari by Plastic Sax.)