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Eternal Vision by Joel Holmes

In a number of ways, young jazz pianist Joel Holmes’ interests and background resemble those of Cyrus Chestnut’s. Both Holmes and Chestnut grew up in a religious background in Baltimore. Both studied at the Peabody Conservatory of Music (though Chestnut was nine years old when he did so.) Both continue to reside in Baltimore, though their trios are active touring the world and performing at notable venues like the Kennedy Center. And both have incorporated their early church experiences into their music as adults experiences that infuse their recordings with bottomless depths of feeling and connection with other spiritually based music like John Coltrane’s or gospel. Chestnut chose to record Blessed Quietness: Collection of Hymns, Spirituals & Carols in 1996. At the age of 22, Joel Holmes chose to record Eternal Vision in 2005.

On his first album, Holmes gives an indication of his enduring and future interests. Combining religious allusions in songs like "Holyspirit" with several jazz standards like "Solar," Holmes nonetheless connects all of the music with spiritually charged emotion and musical imagination. Even though Holmes’ early influences were Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum and even as a grade school student the syncopation of Scott Joplin his sounds on Eternal Vision are more suggestive of McCoy Tyner’s modal explorations and contrasting left-hand-versus-right-hand technique. One would expect "Holyspirit" to refer more directly to gospel music with allusions to hymns and church services. Instead, it brings in prayerfulness through pouncing bass-clef fifths sprinkled with opposing-end-of-the-keyboard treble improvisation. "It Could Happen to You" showcases Holmes’ natural ability to swing, as well as his ability to play with a lighter touch as necessary. The final piece, "Amazing Grace," provides the appropriate ending for the album as it allows Holmes to perform with emotional weight and religious declaration through showering arpeggios, dramatic left-hand tremolos, a ruminative rubato approach and effective chord substitutions.

Intriguingly enough, Holmes finds his own personal fufillment in "Body and Soul," the evergreen classic ever since Coleman Hawkins immortalized it and instantly made it an important part of the jazz canon. Holmes interprets the song from four different directions: with a flowing version alternating propulsion with free improvisation; as a modal interpretation interpretation played over a single chord after the alluding introduction; as a finger-snapping showcase for Holmes’ splendid bassist Herman Burney; and as a more traditional perspective that starts at the bridge and ends with ideas introduced in Part I. Providing contrasting and complementary insights into the same song, Holmes not only suggests the infinitude of improvisational possibilities it offers, but also, he musically takes up interpretation of the song’s implication of eternal versus earthly concerns. The variations of "Body and Soul" are interspersed throughout the CD as interludes, thematic reminders of Holmes’ intentions, as the unmistakable religious intent of the largo-tempoed "Divine Inspiration," for example, is linked to the free-spirited feeling of the jazz waltz, "My Sunshine."

Backed by an empathethic bassist and drummer who share his feeling for the music, Joel Holmes has released an album that lets listeners know who he is within his soul. Holmes’ already impressive degree of talent suggests that the complexity of his musical offering will deepen in the future as his reputation grows. As did Cyrus Chestnut’s.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joel Holmes
  • CD Title: Eternal Vision
  • Genre: BeBop / Hard Bop
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Independent
  • Tracks: Holyspirit, Body & Soul Part 1, Eternal Vision, Divine Revelation, Body& Soul Part 2, One Life to Live, My Sunshine, Body & Soul Part 3, Solar, Body & Soul Part 4, It Could Happen to You, Tomorrows Light, Amazing Grace'
  • Rating: Three Stars
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