If you like your jazz smooth and tuneful with a surprise or two here and there, you may want to take a look at A Sea of Voices, a new album by double bassist Jamie Ousley. Ousley is a professor of jazz bass at Florida International University in Miami and tours internationally with the trio that joins him on most of the tracks on the album. Recently named “Best South Florida Jazz Musician of 2011″ by Boca Life magazine, he has played with the likes of jazz legends Benny Golson, George Shearing, and James Moody. Back Home, a previous release, was named “Best South Florida Jazz Release of 2010,” by the Palm Beach Post.
A Sea of Voices is something of a concept album. Ousley explains that he was looking for a way to “give back” with his talents and “make a tangible difference in the world” with his music. The album was intended as a not-for-profit venture to benefit the environment. All of tracks on the CD are water-inspired compositions chosen presumably to emphasize the need to protect water resources. All profits are to be donated to Sunshine State Interfaith Power and Light, an organization dedicated to mobilizing faith communities in Florida to care for the environment. Ousley says, “I could combine the worlds of diverse faiths and jazz to benefit a common cause that we can all unite behind.”
The album’s 10 tracks are a mix of Ousley’s own compositions, a classic from the American songbook and a few tunes you wouldn’t expect on the typical jazz compilation. Of the five pieces written by Ousley, the smoking hot “Steam” is the highlight. “Hymn of Tides,” which opens the album, features a cascading piano that echoes the tidal movement, and “Loving Beauty” shows off the trio’s lyrical sensitivity. Joe Davidan is the pianist and his work here is stellar. Austin McMahon handles the percussion. “With You” shows what the group can do with a Latin American beat and “Holy Water” has a spiritual hymn-like quality. While I must confess I’m not quite certain how “Loving Beauty” and “With You” relate to the water theme, I’m certainly glad they’re included.
There is a really nice arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “How Deep in the Ocean” by Davidan. And then there are the surprises—the songs you don’t expect on a jazz album. Coldplay’s “Swallowed in the Sea” begins with an ominous-sounding bass intro that takes the song in a quite interesting direction. Country classic “Rocky Top” receives a decidedly non-country treatment, and then there is a haunting version of the iconic folk gem “Shenandoah” with an almost mystical vocal by Nanami Morikawa. Carlomagno Araya is percussionist on “Rocky Top” and “Swallowed in the Sea.” The last piece on the album is “Alfonsina y el Mar,” which features Gabriel Saientz on piano.
All in all A Sea of Voices makes for some very fine listening, and it speaks well for the state of jazz around the country. There is more excellent music around than you might otherwise suppose.