"Optimism" by Alto Saxophonist Jaleel Shaw Set for March 18, 2008 Release


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Award-Winning Composer/Instrumentalist Joined By Robert Glasper, Lage Lund, Jeremy Pelt, Joe Martin & Johnathan Blake On His Second CD As A Leader

With the March 18, 2008 release of Optimism (Changu Records CR001), Jaleel Shaw's second CD as a leader, the award-winning alto saxophonist and composer further solidifies his position as one of the most distinctive writer/arrangers and imposing instrumentalists on today's international jazz scene.

Shaw's nine originals and arrangements of two standards on Optimism, which he produced himself and is the first release on his new label Changu Records, continue to explore the ruggedly individualistic sonic landscapes the saxophonist first featured on his recording debut as a leader - 2005's Perspective (FS New Talent 222) which was named one of that year's top CDs by All About Jazz and Jazzwise. Writing in The New York Times, Nate Chinen praised that album as “...a showcase for Mr. Shaw's stout, self-assured alto saxophone playing and his smartly conceived original compositions." Chinen added that Shaw's ..."sound [is] brawny and full-bodied, but capable of quicksilver actions - and his improvisational method is surefooted and exploratory." Shaw, then 27, won his first ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award for “Heavyweight Champion" on Perspective.

The words “young lion" and “talent deserving wider recognition" are frequently bandied about when talking about emerging artists, but they certainly apply to Shaw. In 2007 he received enough votes to appear for the first time on the top-10 list of alto saxophone “Rising Stars" in the DownBeat International Jazz Critics Poll. Shaw's debut there is the result of a rising international profile and expanding solo career due to, among other creative associations, his having toured globally since 2005 as a member of Roy Haynes' quartet (and appearing on the legendary drummer's Grammy nominated CD Whereas) and having been a member of the Mingus Big Band since 2000, appearing on their Grammy nominated CDs Tonight At Noon and I Am Three. Tours in 2007 with vibraphonist Stefon Harris and pianist Jason Moran added to the forward and upward momentum Shaw is currently experiencing as a player among players.

Optimism should raise Shaw's profile as a player and writer with the public as well. He is reunited on the CD with the pianist Robert Glasper, the Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund (who attended the Berklee College of Music with Shaw) and drummer Johnathan Blake (a childhood friend who, like Shaw, was born and raised in Philadelphia) who all appeared on Shaw's first CD. Along with the saxophonist, they have been cited by The New York Times as “...stewards of a next-generation jazz mainstream that's inspired, not constrained by timeworn traditions...[who provide] evidence of jazz's vigorous health - and the up side of independence." Bassist Joe Martin rounds out the core personnel on Optimism and Jeremy Pelt plays trumpet and flugelhorn on one track each.

Shaw, Glasper, Martin and Blake shoot out of the starting gate on “Flipside," a fast-paced romp that is Optimism's opening track (On February 7, 2008 it was announced this tune won Shaw his second ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award -- a nice gift in advance of his 30th birthday on February 11th.). Lund solos towards the end of the piece in a flurry of fleet-footed guitar riffs although Shaw clearly values the guitarist's ability to contribute atmosphere to a song in addition to serving up swinging solos. “Lage sometimes adds effects that open up the music," Shaw said about Lund, who won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition in 2005 and shares composing credit with the saxophonist on two tracks on the CD. “I'm not exactly sure what they are but he does things with his pedals or a loop machine I often discover for the first time during playback," Shaw said. A compelling piece featuring the alto sax and Lund's electronic wizardry is “Muna's Dream" that Shaw and the guitarist improvised on the spot and is one of two songs on the CD dedicated to Blake's daughter.

Pianist Robert Glasper is also heard in acoustic and electric contexts. “I asked the studio if they had a Rhodes but hadn't necessarily decided to feature the electric piano on this recording," Shaw said. “When we got to the studio a Rhodes was there and Rob started playing it during the session. We ended up using it on 'Almost,' 'Flight,' 'Optimism' and 'Muna's Sleeping.'" This last song, on which Glasper contributes special keyboard effects, is the second song on Optimism inspired by Blake's daughter. “Johnathan and I grew up together and we've been playing together since I was 12.," Shaw explained. “His daughter Muna is a 'jazz baby' and I've never seen her sleep! (Muna's mother, Rio Sakairi, programs the music at The Jazz Gallery in Lower Manhattan, a cutting edge venue that has provided performance opportunities for a generation of young jazz players and composers including everyone heard on Optimism.). “These songs are basically what I envision Muna's dreams to be like and how peaceful, relaxed, and sound she must be when she's finally asleep," Shaw said.

Shaw also included two standards on Optimism, Cole Porter's “Love For Sale" on which the core band is augmented by trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, and the ballad “If I'm Lucky." “Sometimes something that helps me as a composer is to start writing an arrangement of a standard that ends up turning into a new and different tune. In this case I started out writing an original that turned into an arrangement of 'Love For Sale," he said. “I'm a big Johnny Hartman fan," Shaw continued, “and 'If I'm Lucky' is on I Just Dropped By To Say Hello which is one of my favorite recordings."

The band backing Hartman on that classic 1963 Impulse! recording featured a tenor saxophonist (Illinois Jacquet) rather than an alto player. Yet the remaining personnel on that historic Hartmann album--pianist Hank Jones, guitarists Jim Hall and Kenny Burrell, bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Elvin Jones--represented some of the best and brightest jazz artists of that era just as Optimism not only showcases the skills of Shaw who led the session but also those of his sidemen who are among the foremost instrumentalists of the generation of musicians making jazz history today.

This story appears courtesy of MFA - Mitchell Feldman Associates.
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