Two and half years have passed since pianist Kris Bowers won the Monk Piano Competition. Aside from the generous check he got, he was also awarded a Concord Records recording contract. Now 24, Bowers did a lot of learning about the piano and what he intended to do with his debut in that time span. He popped up on Jay Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne and travelled the world with vocalist Jose James. The result reflects those experiences, dishing out as much R&B as solo-oriented jazz. One of the more unexpected influences however would be New Wave Briton Joe Jackson.
Following the ambient chirps and swirling piano of the brief album opener “Forever Spring,” Adam Agati’s jagged guitar introduces “Wake the Neighbors.” Bowers springs in with a sound that all but begs for a cover of Jackson’s 1982 radio staple “Steppin’ Out.” It’s a curious vibe and probably a bit of a shock for a listener expecting renditions of “Blue Monk.” Unfortunately for them, things only get more eclectic from there.
The most youthful and trendy gesture is naming a song after a hashtag. “#TheProtestor,” driven by drummer Jamire Williams’ pinpoint funk, pushes saxophonists Casey Benjamin and Kenneth Whalum III to work in tandem over his pounding backbeat. Meanwhile, vocalist Julia Easterlin lays down a bed of bouncy overdubs for her sensual outpouring on “Forget-Er” before bassist Burniss Earl Travis II pulls the band out of the clouds for a minute with a sparse but twisting line. “WonderLove,” evoking mid 70s Stevie Wonder, swirls with headphone magic, a compelling vocal performance from Chris Turner and another unbreakable beat from Williams. The saxophonists get a lot of grooving and unexpected honks for such a radio-friendly gem. Jose James shows up to close out the proceedings on the oscillating “Ways of Light,” bringing his intricate facial hair and swoon-inducing croon to maximum seduction levels. Bowers takes a spirited but all too short solo, full of straight-ahead potential.
Kris Bowers @ NYC Jazz Record