Josiah Woodson ‘Suite Elemental’ CD/DIG (Re:Wax/Truth Revolution) 5/5

30/40 years ago talented musicians like Josiah Woodson would have no difficulty finding their way onto a good-sized Jazz record label and reaping the benefits of the corporate machine for promotion, exposure and market penetration. That was the traditional route then. Now young artists with something to say have to take their destiny into their own hands, using the marketing ‘starter’ kit available via the web in the form of social media, video streaming, crowd funding and the blogosphere. Woodson has taken this route for his debut and whilst the Internet has made the world smaller, it has made it no less crowded meaning that exposure is still a challenge.His background is fairly typical for a Jazz tyro, at least in his early years. Formally schooled in music in Ohio and Boston, he got his musical education playing with the likes of Branford Marsalis, Billy Hart, Gary Bartz, David Sanchez, Danilo Perez and Marcus Belgrave. Rather than take the traditional Jazz route to New York though, Woodson moved to Paris where he lives and works, following in the footsteps of Sidney Bechet, Dexter Gordon, Kenny Clarke, Archie Shepp and more recently Logan Richardson.

Woodson plays trumpet, flugelhorn, flute and guitar on this album, but he’s no one-man band. His group, Quintessentiel, embody his cosmopolitan attitude featuring members from Martinique, Australia, US and France.

The 6-track album is the backdrop to a narrative exploring the journey of a prince as he experiences the four elements of nature – “Air”, “Eau”, “Feu” and “Terre” en route to becoming a king. Woodson describes both the story and the music as “a chance to spark as much imagination as possible, to give the listener a chance to create their own reality in their mind, to imagine what is going on in the story on their own terms”. By shaping his music around such universal, primary building blocks Woodson allows us all to step inside his creative vision, after all who amongst us cannot imagine textures and tones that embody the air we breathe or the water we drink?

Inside my head there is wonder, harmony, joy, unpredictability and danger, a mixture of raw, primordial energies and benign eternal constants, concepts I can relate to within Woodson’s musical interpretation.

“Air” is upbeat, light and fresh sounding infused with trumpet and a nice performance on Rhodes solo from guest Lovell Bradford. “Eau” shimmers as it ebbs and flows, with Woodson leading on both guitar and flute. Imagine a fast moving stream with the rhythm driven along by the current, with quieter eddies and pools at the water’s edge. “Feu” is darker in tone and opens with a promise of menace before bursting with sparks of energy. Ricardo Izquierdo on tenor sax adds to that sense of foreboding. “Terre” starts with the bass, as I guess it should, with another guest New Yorker Peter Giron. Originally intended as the start of the journey, it is the most grounded of the suite, with a whimsical spirit. If you like this track then I’d urge you to watch the Youtube video which includes Tarani Joy Woodson’s reading. The story reaches its end with “Solstice” an upbeat guitar lead melody.

Woodson has crafted as stimulating and joyous an album as I have heard for some time, to my ears more evocative, entertaining and just downright tuneful than many of the more mainstream artists in the Jazz firmament right now.

Andy Hazell