Bassist/Composer Joshua Crumbly Blurs Genre Lines On Debut ‘Rise’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Since the new wave of artists like Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah, Derrick Hodge, Terrace Martin, and so many others have meshed R&B, electronica and hip-hop with jazz it may seem like we are approaching the point of a new genre.  But hold on. Arguably, each of these artists are creating such singular styles that they become genres onto themselves. Enter the newest kid on the block, the not-yet-30-year-old bassist/composer Joshua Crumbly who has been playing professionally since the age of ten and has worked with Kamasi, Leon Bridges, Terrence Blanchard, Lizz Wright, Stefon Harris, Ravi Coltrane, and Anthony Wilson. Crumbly takes his many diverse experiences into his own uncategorizable sound on his aptly named debut Rise.

Crumbly is seeking such a diverse sound that he imagines his music performed at rock festivals, jazz clubs, and concert halls. Accordingly, he recruited a diverse group of players for this project and gave them each a chance to shine, rarely pointing the spotlight at himself. They are keyboardists Mathis Picard (who just released his impressive EP World Unity with the Mathis Sound Orchestra) and Taber Gable, both fellow Juilliard alumni. He also brings aboard Blanchard bandmate pianist Fabian Almazan and Bridges bandmate saxophonist Josh Johnson. Drummers Jonathan Pinson and Jason Burger trace to Crumbly’s formative years in L.A. Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker (whose album with his band the New Breed, Suite for Max Brown, we covered on these pages this past January) and keyboardist David Cook have become frequent collaborators.

Crumbly gives all these players tremendous freedom while at the same time eschewing the standard jazz structure of head-solos-head. He sought a different approach based on lost loved ones and moving through personal struggles to a more hopeful place. These thoughts have their spiritual roots in the church, which is where Crumbly first started playing as a youngster in L.A. For example, the title track originated with a feeling of self-doubt until his dad pointed him forward. His dad is the saxophonist Ronnie Crumbly, who contributed to writing the opening track “Afria,” which is a dedication to both of his parents, combining the African heritage of dad and Asian of his mother. The foundation of the song is played on rivet-studded mbira that Joshua found while on tour in japan. Ronnie plays soprano sax on “Noah” and duduk (a double reed woodwind instrument) on that track and the closer, “Light.” Just as Kamasi Washington has his father joining him in performance and on recordings, it’s nice to see Crumbly with that same gesture. In a way, it returns a favor as Joshua played as a 13-year-old on his dad’s 2005 Like Father Like Son.

The hard-charging single “New Rock Thingy” features keyboards and synths from Gable and Picard with terrific drumming from Pinson and a few wails from Johnson’s alto. “Noah” is a standout track dedicated to a Julliard friend who passed away at the age of 25. The highly textured, albeit somber tune features Johnson and Ronnie Crumbly on reeds along with Gable and Picard, joined on piano by Almazan with Jason Burger on lightly brushed drums. “Remembering” and “Valor” are short sketches performed by the core quintet of Johnson, Picard, Gable, and Burger, punctuated with Joshua’s melodic bass lines. 

“For Victor,” also a single, is a dedication to the one of Joshua’s mentors, the late bassist Victor Bailey. Joshua tries to capture the emotion of Bailey’s passing in his bass solo. “Shout Song” comes closest to Joshua’s church heritage, with David Cook on the B3 and drummer Pinson echoing the Shout Best that drummers would play during services. Some of Cook’s organ lines reference Bach chorales and other sacred music while Gable makes his own exciting, spiraling keyboard statement. “Light,” features the most players on any track, nine of them with Joshua playing both bass and drums, Ronnie on duduk, Jeff Parker on guitar, Cook on synth effects, and Zach Harmon on tablas, joining the usual suspects in the brief optimistic closer.

There are several influences in Crumbly’s debut which is highly textured in sound, made coherent through consistent layers of multiple keys laced with saxes and superb rhythm work from his bass and each drummer, depending on the track. Joshua Crumbly is off to a solid start as bandleader and composer.

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