Jamie Ousley is an accomplished bassist, and while I am familiar with many of the headliners he has been a sideman for, I am not familiar with his music. But then again, I rarely go out to hear jazz music when I am in Miami! But the next time I am in Miami, I will be looking to catch one of his shows! Ousley's lastest release Back Home, is a collection of originals and covers that display his wide range of musical influences and talents. As player, composer and writer, Ousley gives you the full array of talents.
What impressed me about this CD was the careful combination of songs on the disc. Each a lyric and singly entertaining piece but when taken as a whole, a solid story of comfort and expressiveness. Ousley brings together some solid talent in the musicians he chooses to accompany him on this project. Ira Sullivan, a talented multi-instrumentalist is a featured artist on a number of songs and leaves his mark on them. The rhythm section of Ousley, pianist, Phillip Strange and drummer, Larry Marshall are tight and work well together.
This CD has spiritual underpinings and each song has such depth and emotion, even "My Favorite Things" (Rodgers & Hammerstein) with its Flamenco arrangement has a new feel to it.
From the first cut, "A Tune, Sir?", an Ousley original composition featuring Sullivan, the CD sets the tone of being a worthy listen. Ousley shows us his comfort in delivering songs with a melody that is descriptive, moving and full of expression. This cut is a great opening number.
"Nashvillatino" is a paradox, because you come into it on the back of a tightly executed ostinato groove and then Strange enters and raises the melody over the groove and the song speeds on. The Latin groove here is pure Miami!
Ira Sullivan is fantastic on the track "My Favorite Things". I only mention this again because I have heard this song played by countless musicians and rarely do I enjoy their versions as much I did this one. I don't know if it was the Flamenco flavoring, or the treatment of the melody by Sullivan on the flute. Either way, it was refreshing. Ousley's rhythm section and percussionists held the groove together nicely and laid out a solid fabric for the melody to weave into. Strange puts together an energetic solo for this cut.
Ousley comes out in full force on the double bass for the track "This Is It", but again, Sullivan is highlighted playing soprano sax. The two of them bop their way through this one. Strange is ever present and makes the whole song pop! I challenge you to sit still listening to this funky groove!
At this point the CD takes a notable turn to the spiritual and emotional side. The following few cuts show a sensitivity and beauty in the compositions and arrangements that make this an overall moody listen. From the cut "Clearing" to the end of the CD with the instrumental rendition of "Back Home" the songs have deep emotion, and played with a passion that is felt through each note.
The vocal version of "Back Home" featuring SAMM, a Miami area vocalist who tours with Ousley as the "Unorthodox Duo" lends a soulful flavor to the lyrics co-written by Ousley and herself. This title cut speaks to the need to go back to that place where one is from and where one can be complete. SAMM's deep emotional tone is an interesting compliment to the melody.
Chopin's "Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9 No 2" is treated to a Cuban Danzon rhythm and for some reason sounds like a popular love song. You listen and think, " I know this song", but are at a loss for the lyrics, but you swear you have heard them! It is a nice touch to put this classic in that genre.
The rich baritone vocals of Miami native, LeNard Rutledge, add a texture and depth to the track "So Long", an Ousley composition dedicated to his Uncle Lea. This cut has the strength of melody and vocal treatment to anchor the entire CD's them of "Back Home" feelings.
When speaking of a "Back Home" feel, the cut "Pasaje Tennessee" takes you around the world to bring you back! Jhonny Mendoza, Venezuelan concert master violinist is featured on violin, mandolin, cuatro, and maracas. The song is fully of worldly tones and motifs, but underlying it is a reel, or call and response melody that would be as comfortable at a Tennessee gathering as it would be in the Venezuelan highlands.
"Prayer" opens with another beautiful solo by Sullivan on flute. This song also features the vocals fo Nanami Morikawa, who has the "voice of an angel" and serves the song well.
Back Home comes full circle with the final instrumental version of the title track. This is a nicely put together collection of songs played expertly by the musicians featured on this recording. The compostions are all deeply spiritual pieces and have some real depth to them. They approach timelessness, even though you just heard some of them for the first time. That to me is a sign that Jamie Ousley understands the place he wants to take the listener and when he gets you there, he provides familiar surroundings in which to settle and become relaxed in the music. Ousley has delivered a wonderful piece of musical comfort in Back Home. This is an enjoyable listen from start to finish with some really fine moments of individual and ensemble excellence. My hat is off to Ousley on his latest creation, Back Home.