Saxophonist Darius Jones grew up poor in Virginia, son of a single mother, living either on his relatives’ farm or in a trailer. He also grew up rich, surrounded by a loving family and close to an uncle who loved music and played the saxophone by ear along with records by Grover Washington and Parliament.
For his debut statement, 31-year-old Jones wanted to tell his story. To talk about what it means to be poor and black and struggling and intelligent in this day and age. Jones has fit all that and more into an incredible recording that will make you sing, make you weep and make you marvel. You’ll marvel at the assurance shown by Jones as he navigates the rhythmic and harmonic landscape created by his trio partners, pianist Cooper-Moore and drummer Rakalam Bob Moses. Cooper-Moore and Moses are decades older than Jones, and they support him and also push him.
The church is never far from this music. And it’s the church of “joyful noise,” where both those words have equal weight. It’s the gospel according to the human voice, to the makeshift percussion instrument, to the two-note saxophone solo played by a young man whose horn was held together with rubber bands and fire. A young man who walked miles to take saxophone lessons that he couldn’t pay for. A young man who befriended the family that owned the instrument repair shop so they’d work on his horn and let him settle up when he could.
From the first seconds of Man’ish Boy (AUM Fidelity, 2009), the keening scream of Jones’ saxophone announces the arrival of an important new voice. Jones brings a strong sense of melody to the record on tunes like the gorgeous “Meekness.” And he brings a terrifying and beautiful abandon to the swirling, heavy-metal freedom of “Chasing The Ghost.” On the latter, Jones’ saxophone soars and dives as Cooper-Moore pins the needle with the electric diddely-bo, a one-stringed instrument with an African origin story and a strong Southern tradition.
Cooper-Moore and Moses had never recorded together — or even met — before making this album, so we have one more reason to be thankful to Jones. Both veterans are intense listeners, and their playing in no way belies their ages.
The best music tells you something not only about the musicians, but about yourself. Man’ish Boy is that kind of record. It’s not just good. It’s important. And we are the richer for its existence.
LISTEN: Darius Jones, “Chasing the Ghost” [streaming MP3]
Jason Crane is the host of the online jazz interview show The Jazz Session.