Micah Graves, Pawns Review
by Jeff Becker
Micah Graves is a jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, and instructor from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He took classical piano lessons at thirteen while he was homeschooled. Then, however, he switched his focus to jazz piano, where he studied at Philadelphia Clef of Jazz under the direction of Lovett Hines and at The Kimmel Performing Arts Center under the direction of Anthony Tidd. Graves was awarded a full summer scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music’s five-week summer program for two straight summers for his Junior year and Senior year. Graves attended Temple University for his Undergrad to study Jazz Piano and studied with Tim Brey, Bruce Barth, and Mike Moreno for college. Graves has released three albums as a leader and teaches ensembles and 45+ students at Settlement Music School. Graves’ current album is called Pawns, which fuses elements of bebop, fusion, funk, and storytelling that fit the theme of renewal, hope, and revival.
The title track, “Pawns,” opens the album and instantly establishes Graves’ deep sense of groove and ability to write complex music that is still clear and enjoyable to listen to and follow. Julian Miltenberger (drums) and Zach Guise (bass) work with Graves to create a hip groove for tenor saxophonist Yesseh Ali to build upon and express himself. The ensemble is focused and intent on making a powerful musical statement. Guitarist Zach Fischer builds from the lower range of the guitar to the upper boundaries of the fretboard. Miltenberger solos against a smart ostinato before the cadence. Graves’ composition has an interesting melody, instrumentation, and a balance of activity.
“Lost In Time In Central Square” is Graves exploring a modern melody with lyrics and male/female vocal harmonies. The horns, violin (Zoe Lynch), and vocalists Shafiq Hicks and Danielle Dougherty build the intricate melody with accuracy and style. Graves constructs a beautiful composition that is riff-soaked and articulates soul jazz at its best. The propulsive feel gives the soloist a firm foundation to set their ideas into motion as the ensemble maintains an irresistible hard-driving groove. Graves has many moments in the composition that provide explosive power of written and improvised space. Exceptionally presenting the ensemble that is well locked in and delivers an impressive performance.
Pawns is eight tracks from a talented ensemble and gifted composer, Micah Graves. The album will interest both traditional and modern jazz listeners as the performances are confident and enthusiastic. Graves’ abilities as a composer to bring sounds of the past into today’s sonic landscapes are universal and should be explored with repeated listening.