Cameron Graves ‘Planetary Prince’ CD (Mack Avenue) 3/5

From the same band that Kamasi Washington fronted (and the saxophonist returns the compliment as sideman here), comes an interesting, if in parts problematic, debut from pianist Cameron Graves. While there is no doubting the energetic effort and potential here, what is finally delivered sadly comes up short. The majority of the pieces are overly long and ramble on in a loose impromptu jam session style (but sadly missing the magic of that genre), while the piano playing veers between pop and classical, and somewhat lacking in sophistication. Moreover, the hi-energy drumming does grate after a while. Four tracks are above ten minutes in length and even the shortest piece weighs in at seven and a half minutes.
That said, the pared-down sextet that includes Thundercat on bass on two numbers, impresses on the ‘Isle of love’, a gentle ballad, a hint perhaps that more is to come from this band, with a lovely piano roll and a bassline to match. On ‘The end of corporatism’ horns operate in unison with an elongated piano solo. Washington is content to play a secondary role. Another ballad, ‘Adam and Eve’, begins with a piano solo that indicates that Debussy-esque rêveries have influenced graves and the repetitive horn riff works well here. Something that could be developed further on future releases. Bop meets Middle Eastern flavours are married on ‘El diablo’, with a bass breakdown and piano vamping.

Cascading notes succeed one another throughout, but are they actually the right notes? As both Miles Davis and Ahmad Jamal have very ably demonstrated, it is not necessarily how many notes you play, but rather the manner in which you play them that differentiates between musicians, and listening to long sequences of this album can prove to be a difficult experience. Not on a par with ‘The epic’, then, and not nearly as densely layered. A case of going back to the drawing board and re-thinking strategy.

Tim Stenhouse