Sunday, May 4, 2014

Album Review: Diverse- Our Journey

The release of Diverse's debut album in 2009 marked the start of the latest artistic renaissance of Kansas City's jazz scene.  The self-titled project served notice that Bobby Watson's jazz program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City was bearing fruit. 

It's taken five years for Diverse to issue the follow-up album Our Journey. A lot has transpired in the interim.  Originally a quintet, the core trio of trumpeter Hermon Mehari, bassist Ben Leifer and drummer Ryan Lee recently made Parisian pianist Tony Tixier an official member of the band.

Diverse has become well known in the region for its lively tributes to Michael Jackson and live recreations of albums by the likes of A Tribe Called Quest.  Jazz fans have witnessed a concurrent refinement of Diverse's jazz chops.

Given the breathless praise that's been heaped on Diverse (the author of this site not excepted), people might assume that Diverse is breaking new musical ground.  It's not.  Diverse's sound is rooted in the style of mid-1960s Miles Davis albums like E.S.P. and Nefertiti.  Recorded in Paris in 2012, Our Journey is a subtle, elegant and predominantly conservative statement.

Mehari employs the sort of wounded, highly emotive tone associated with Davis.  Guest saxophonist Logan Richardson plays the role of Wayne Shorter.  The Kansas City native's presence on the album is the primary reason jazz fans around the world are likely to take notice of Our Journey.  A member of NEXT Collective, Richardson is an established player.  Tixier makes for a solid Herbie Hancock.

Yet it's the rhythm section of Lee and Leifer that shines brightest on Our Journey.  The years they've spent working together result in many of the album's best moments.  Leifer's elastic bass and the bounce of Lee's drumming makes the Lionel Loueke-esque "Motherland" one of the standout selections.  The quiet power of the tandem on the more conventional title track is astounding. 

The melodic funk of "Full Circle" is immediately engaging.  Even so, "Full Circle"'s slick production and electronic elements belong on another album.  Its inclusion is Our Journey's only overt flaw.

One of my greatest fears as an intense observer of Kansas City's jazz scene is the prospect of Diverse relocating to Paris.  Yet thanks in large part to the path restored by Diverse, Kansas City once again looks like an attractive base for a new wave of young jazz musicians.

The CD release party for Our Journey takes place at the Blue Room on Friday, May 9.  Diverse will also perform at the Hollywood Theater in Leavenworth on Saturday, May 10.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

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