Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Album Review: Ryan Porter - The Optimist

Ryan Porter
The Optimist
**** out of *****

Recorded at The Shack, the basement of Kamasi's Washington's parents house in 2008-09, comes Ryan Porter's, The Optimist. Before this talented group of players would go on to score Netflix series, tour the world or partner with Kendrick Lamar they were just a group of hungry jazz players in Los Angeles California known as the West Coast Get Down.

The Optimist is a fiery offering which kicks off with a bang on "The Psalmist". The blowing horns set the tone as the group locks in before an amazing piano flurry from Cameron Graves ignites the band to reach even higher. Washington's smooth tenor is a cool interlude and Porter's rougher trombone brings back the groove as the track closes on a triumphant note.

The album is filled with these moments and while Porters name is on the record it is easy to hear the formation of a cohesive unit who would go on to succeed more then any jazz collective in decades over the next few years.

"Obamanomics" and "Deja Vu" are both smoother numbers but show the collective can be just as successful with it's electric keys and trumpet lead as with their blow out tunes. Miles Mosley's upright bass kicks of the somber "Strugglesville" which manages to bring in classic jazz style with modern itching and scratching while 

The bright and shiny "The Instrumental Hip-Hoppa" is a sweet roll, but for some reason sounds recorded at a distance, throwing off the jubilant sound of the record half way through.It is an odd placement of a number which could be a highlight but comes off the weakest of the bunch. 

"Night Court In Compton" recalls the opener, competing with it for the most exciting track on the this collection. The band gets down and funky while keeping the jazz horn vibe alive. Porter in particular shines here with a great lead line as things manage to get exploratory and challenging through out. "K-Wash" goes back to the smoother side of things augmented by some killer bass fills as Washington takes the lead throughout before "Anya" continues the laid back exploratory vibe in more full on group fashion. 

"Little Sunflower" allows the drums of Tony Austin, Robert Miller and Lyndon Rochelle to get creative and propel things along; that Bootsie Collins inspired electro fills (bass or keybs?) are quality add as is the bright trumpet work of Jumaane Smith. Porter again though blasts a great solo as the band continues to thrive as he leads them charging into unknown vistas.

The album wraps up with two of the records longest excursions, the players take on a standard with John Coltrane's "Impressions" and an original entitled "Chocolate Nuisance". The groups cover of Coltrane slows down the original, giving it more of a soulful feel, admirable and solid, just not particularly memorable or exciting. "Chocolate Nuisance" on the other hand is both of those things. The album closer is a whirling mix of horns, blackplotation funk, adventurous yet nuanced playing and a sense of mirth.

Porter and everyone on this disk has been discovered but these recordings prove that even before that the players were something special to behold and The Optimist keeps things positive; any fans of any sort of jazz should be checking out this and other records by West Coast Get Down collective.
Support the artist, buy the record, stream it on bandcamp or below and peep some video:

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