Review: The Jacob Duncan Quintet – “It’s Alright To Dream”

I just feel cool, like everything’s alright, when I’m listening to Jacob Duncan, don’t you?

Well, thankfully for all of us who like feeling like the world’s not completely coming apart at the seams, the talented Louisville saxophonist is back after his debut, The Busker, won over critics with a few tricks up his sleeve and a new quintet in tow. The quintet’s debut, It’s Alright to Dream, is out today via Calvin Cycle Collective, and it, my friend, is a mighty, mighty, mighty thing.

While Duncan’s previous work hinted at the densely textured but ultimately calm-watered jazz of Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny’s Beyond The Missouri SkyIt’s Alright To Dream is, thank you thank you, a more complex, throbbing and angular affair. Calling to mind contemporaries Avishai Cohen Trio in structure even more now than before, the record features intense sax solos from Duncan and featured tenor saxophonist JD Allen, as well as some engaging and starkly rhythmic piano work from Gabriel Evens. The rhythm section also works wonders for Duncan’s color palette: the drum backbone of “Don’t Count The Days,” an ode to fellow Louisvillian Muhammed Ali, is wondrous splendor; the kick-drum-fueled anti-beat of incredible opener “Oomamaboomba Boulevard,” for sculptor Eva Hesse, borders on the arithme-rhythms of math-rock. (The sax solo two minutes in also will blow off your goddamn socks.)

There are moments, of course, of conventionality, even if they’re only in passing nods. The title track is a sugar-sweet and balladish little sashay, complete with almost-martini-tinged piano leads and a breathy sax solo. But The Jacob Duncan Quintet is at its best when it’s cutting loose and getting a little mathematic with the proceedings, as on the excellent “Dear Isadora,” for dancer (and Jacob Duncan’s ancestor) Isadora Duncan, which sounds like the deliciously caffeine-fueled take, at times, on “Blue Train.”

The record ends in fine fashion with “Kentucky Mud Shuffle,” a “comic commentary” on the state of Kentucky politics. The thing is, sonically, about as far as you could get from Bevin and McConnell – joyous, raucous, with piano that at times borders on ragtime. A 2018 report from the Institution of Corruption Studies at Illinois State named Kentucky’s politicians to be perceived by press members as the most corrupt in the nation; you almost can sense the I-give-up abandon at that shared perception (and maybe a sense of irony, too) in the trills and spins of Duncan’s sax.

After The Busker, I found myself yearning for more of the sweet sax that Duncan provided on that record, as well as a supporting musician with the likes of Rachel Grimes, Norah Jones, and – wait, wait for it – Aretha fucking Franklin. After It’s Alright to Dream, I want to hear a hell of a lot more from this quintet. Gentlemen and ladies, this one’s a keeper. – Justin Vellucci, MusicTAP, Oct. 16, 2018

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