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Joshua Crumbly puts himself on the map with a unique space and voice

June 25, 2020

Joshua Crumbly‘s Rise defies expectations. It’s ostensibly a jazz record, but the approach of the record is far more oriented toward rock, post-rock, and even ambient stylings: one of its singles is a track called “New Rock Thingy” that includes an ambient section (as well as a traditionally jazzy saxophone solo at the end).

This isn’t to say it’s not a jazz record; it’s certainly got the chops and the sensibilities to make jazz aficionados jump. (“Remembering” is a jazz ballad par excellence, while “Shout Song” and “Light” are just a couple of the tracks with prominent saxophone leads.) But Crumbly is definitely in the space of artists like Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Mark Guiliana and more who take jazz as a starting place to move into their own space with their own voice.

For Crumbly, that space is a quiet, reverent place. Multiple songs are elegies for the dead; “Noah” and “For Victor” call out their fallen directly, while tracks like “Remembering” and “Rise” fall in a similar sonic space as those and thus feel thematically similar. Beyond the titular thematic thread, much of this record is pensive without dragging (especially “For Victor,” which gets positively hectic), thoughtful without compromising on precision.

Crumbly’s instrumental voice in his compositions is of a bassist that puts emotive bass runs in the service of moving along the mellow, relaxing work. See “Valor” for a perfect example of a deeply enthusiastic bass performance that yet is a laidback jam (even as the bass and drums try to punch it into overdrive). It’s quite a trick. “Shout Song” is another example of an overall quiet approach anchored by consistent bass movement. Closer “Light” is probably the most experimental of the track, showing off Crumbly’s careful voice impeccably. Synths (or perhaps processed sax?), hand percussion, and kit percussion interplay carefully over a series of bass-led chord changes, creating a highly evocative piece of work.

None of the pieces on Rise are long; none break five minutes, and seven of the nine are finished in under four. This gives his reverent, careful pieces the feel of statements in an easygoing conversation. The record is not dense or demanding; instead, the work is inviting, emotive, and thoughtful. That it can be those things without compromising on quality of composition and strength of arrangement is a strong testament to the quality of both. Crumbly has put himself on my map with this debut.

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Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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