Jazz, for a kid like me, had always been elusive. Raised listening to Steely Dan in my father’s car, I simply had never been much exposed to it. Even when told of the jazz elements hidden in the glaring polish of that light, rocky band, the connection seemed to me ultimately vague in my younger years. Yes, the band knows that melody is not restricted to rhythm, and there’s improv to be found, but is that all there is? I think I was waiting for something to blow me away, but all I found was some tooting horns. The horns were cool, sure, but really now, what’s this jazz thing all about?
Years have passed with seasons, and as I’ve wizened with age (I’m only 20, but for the conceit of this review, I’m much older), I’ve thought it time for me to really look at this Jazz stuff with a trained stare. It seems like that phase of my life is waiting for me anyway. My beard is turning from black to grey, and my receding hairline has found itself slicked back in recent days, the comb falling into my breast pocket. Soon my wardrobe will consist of blue jeans and black shirts and that’ll be that. I’ll be an old man—a jazz man.
I picked up Sunjinho and now take it with me on walks. It’s been the same route for a while, around the block to the end of Ritters Street, where I turn around in the cul de sac and head home. I make the trip once or twice a week, and the road’s long enough to give the whole album a good once through. I share the same periodic glimpses of front lawns and screen doors as I do the music of Jackson Conti. Every week, though always the same route, I come upon something novel like new neighbors and their moving van. Sometimes its smaller than that, maybe noticing how irregular the percussion can get without jumping out of place, or hearing how the rhythmic guitar slides up down the scale, but keeps itself in the rhythm section, behind soloist, behind the melody. It is an obscured art, subtle, making its mark only with repeated observation and a man with the time to listen. In my walks, the rhythm of steps is lost, and I meditate on melody, on rhythm in Sunjinho. The music gives me time, takes its time, makes the time. It’s perfect walking music, ambling at its own measure and revealing itself slowly, at the speed of a neighborhood. Gardens bloom as a melody bursts from its pattern, and days later, the pitch falls like a single petal to the ground. On the entire block, I am the only one who sees the petal fall.
In Sunjinho, jazz isn’t the revolution I thought it to be when I was young. The change in Sunjinho is covert. There are silent insurrections of rhythm hiding behind the booming solo, and surely the biggest changes in melody are not that volume, but of omission and subtle divergence from the path drawn before it.
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