Alexis Valet, Following the Sun Review


Alexis Valet, Following the Sun Review

by Icrom Bigrad

Alexis-Valet-Jazz-Sensibilities-cdIn the fall of 2022, French jazz vibraphonist Alexis Valet embarked on a journey that would shape his musical landscape in profound ways. Following the sun, he made his way from the East to the West, landing in the vibrant and eclectic city of New York. For three months, Valet immersed himself in the city’s pulsating jazz scene, playing, jamming, and absorbing the essence of its musical spirit. The culmination of this experience is Following the Sun, an album that encapsulates his New York adventure but also serves as a metaphorical quest for inspiration, growth, and artistic integrity.

Following the Sun features an ensemble of Dayna Stephens on tenor saxophone, Aaron Parks on piano, Joe Martin on double bass, and Kush Abadey on drums. Together, they navigate a sonic landscape that is both a homage to jazz traditions and a bold exploration of contemporary sounds.

The album opens with “Ups and Downs,” reflecting New York’s bustling energy. Abadey’s incisive drumming drives the counterpoint between vibraphone and tenor saxophone. As the composition progresses, it transforms into a groove where Valet’s lyrical playing shines, culminating in a quasi-elegiac finale. The shifting feel changes and elegant solos from Parks and Stephens highlight the ensemble’s musical skill.

“June” has a funky, European-meets-East Coast vibe. The languid, electric atmosphere evokes the end of school years and the anticipation of summer freedom. Stephens’ fiery solo builds with emotional intensity, using saxophone screams and intervallic creativity to convey a sense of jubilation. Abadey’s cymbal work and Parks’ skillful accompaniment add layers of texture to this evocative piece.

Composed after a late-night jam session, “Dream of Integrity” captures Valet’s introspective mood. The piece features swirling drumming from Abadey and a big bass sound from Martin, grounding the well-conceived composition. Valet’s solo is fluid in navigating the harmonic structures with clarity and melodic acuity, resulting in a performance rich with engaging appeal.

Inspired by the first living being sent into space, the dog Laika, this poignant ballad is dedicated to animal causes. Parks sets a melancholic mood from the first notes, and Stephens’ tenor saxophone highlights the heartrending accents of the melody. Martin’s lyrical solo and Valet’s sensitive vibraphone work make “Laika” one of the album’s most introspective moments.

The title track, “Following the Sun,” is a homage to the album’s participants and a nod to jazz giants who continue to inspire. With a piano ostinato launching the composition, the piece blends swing and straight eights for a series of dynamic twists, propelling the soloists to new heights. “Cypher” reflects the connection between jazz and hip-hop, with the bass line referencing the circles formed by rappers and beatboxers. Each musician steps into the spotlight, delivering solos that highlight their individual styles while contributing to the collective narrative. The composition’s refrain provides a cohesive structure.

Dedicated to Valet’s best friend and named after a Spanish seaside village, “Lekeitio” is full of warmth and luminous melodies. Abadey’s joyful drumming and Parks’ brio in his solo make this piece a delightful journey through childhood memories and rhythmic textures.

The album closes with “Myrtle,” inspired by the metro station near Valet’s New York stay. This upbeat composition embodies the hopes and dangers of urban life, with Valet’s vibraphone and Abadey’s cymbals delivering a rousing swing improvisation. Parks and Stephens follow suit, reveling in the rhythmic flow and showcasing the ensemble’s dynamic synergy.

Following the Sun takes us through the vibrant hustle of New York’s jazz scene, the introspective nights that inspire artistic integrity, and the heartfelt homage to the light that guides all artists – inspiration. Alexis Valet and his ensemble have crafted a record that resonates with the depth of their musicality and the power of their emotions.

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