Wayne Escoffery, Like Minds Review
The Alchemy of Synchrony in Wayne Escoffery’s Like Minds
by Icrom Bigrad
As a jazz enthusiast, scholar, and musician, I found the Like Minds album by Wayne Escoffery to be a true feast of synergistic collaboration and virtuosic performance. Unveiled on April 14, 2023, by Smoke Sessions Records, it provides an intimate glimpse into the deep bonds and shared sensibilities of Escoffery and his enduring quartet: pianist David Kikoski, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr.
The underlying premise of this album is a celebration of kindred spirits. The quartet, having honed their instincts together since 2016, creates a marvel akin to a delicious gumbo, each musician contributing unique ingredients that simmer together into a unified, flavorful musical concoction.
Escoffery, a London native, Grammy winner, and an influential figure in the jazz scene leads the group with his tenor saxophone, guiding listeners through a rich and varied soundscape. His work on the album is reminiscent of a seasoned chef, each song prepared with carefully selected components, resulting in an assortment of aural flavors that are complex yet balanced.
The title track, “Like Minds,” is well-written Escoffery’s composition. Its vibrant, buoyant melody brings our ears into focus on the ensemble’s modern jazz sound. Escoffery’s solo is passionate and musical. The harmonic landscape and rhythmic flow are a brilliant setting for guitarist Mike Moreno as he epitomizes the alchemy of the guitar’s role in a modern jazz setting. Moreno’s precise alternate and sweep-picking techniques, synchronized impeccably with Whitfield Jr.’s agile drumming, provide a sonic journey to excite and inspire fellow musicians. The ensemble deeply understands the complex jazz syntax, unfolding the music like an engaging conversation between old friends.
Their version of Charles Mingus’s iconic “Nostalgia in Times Square” is a cleverly reimagined culinary delight, served with a funky groove and seasoned with Kikoski’s Rhodes and Harrell’s nimble trumpet solo. The group’s tribute to Mingus and the celebration of his centennial is both tasteful and innovative, showing that they’re not merely reheating old classics but adding their unique spices to them.
Escoffery’s “Sincerely Yours” is a thrilling musical recipe layered over the harmonic structure of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” via Freddie Hubbard’s “Dear John.” These chord changes have become a benchmark for modern jazz players to prove their merit; here, all is clear and in focus. In ‘My Truth,’ Gregory Porter’s rich baritone voice offers a stirring rendition, evoking poignant feelings akin to savoring a fiery chili, potent yet layered.
The album serves up an unexpected but pleasantly surprising dish with their cover of the reggae classic “By the Rivers of Babylon.” Escoffery’s Jamaican heritage resonates through this piece, and Porter’s voice lends a potent emotional depth, resulting in a powerful musical statement.
The ensemble pays tribute to their late drummer Ralph Peterson Jr. by including his composition ‘Song of Serenity’ and the album closer ‘Shuffle,’ which further acknowledges his influential presence. Whitfield’s distinct drumming adds a youthful, modern jazz energy to both. Moreno’s modern jazz lines are sprinkled with tasteful jazz blues colors, akin to a dessert course that leaves you fully satisfied yet craving more.
Escoffery’s Like Minds was prepared during the global pandemic, challenging us to seek solace and expression through art. The band’s shared experience and deep connection, forged on bandstands worldwide, are the key ingredients that make this album a banquet of heartfelt performances and imaginative compositions.
Much like a perfect recipe, Like Minds marries diverse elements to create a unified, satisfying whole. Escoffery’s album demonstrates the power of shared experiences and mutual understanding in crafting deeply personal and universally resonant music. It is a must-listen for all those who relish today’s jazz as a rich tapestry woven from individual threads of eloquently performed modern jazz.