Saxophonist/composer Eric Person’s latest album, a 12-part jazz suite performed by a 13-piece ensemble called Thoughts on God, marks the artist’s attempt to express his ideas and feelings about the Creator in musical form. As he puts it in the album notes, “When I sat down to write this music I tried to visualize all the great things, the blessings that we have here on Earth. So I tried to think positive thoughts, to think about the Creator, about all the wonderful things that he’s given us.” Thinking these kinds of positive thoughts, he felt, came through both in the writing and the performance.
Now whether it was the power of Person’s spiritual positivity affecting his work or simply his talent as a musician that was the generative force of the album, I can’t say. What I can say is that whatever was responsible, the result is a truly excellent piece of work. I might also quibble that were it not for his comments about his intentions combined with the titles he gives to each of the dozen sections, I doubt very much I would have found the music all that different from any other finely-tuned original jazz compositions played with joyful passion.
There are tracks that swing. There are ballads. There are impressive solos by nearly every member of the ensemble but, once again, if you didn’t call a track ”And Then There Was Light,” “Creation Celebration,” “Soothes the Soul,” or album Thoughts on God, I’m not sure I would recognize that spiritual intent. Of course, were it not for the accompanying text and commentary, I probably could say the same about most, if not all, of the great monuments of classical religious music. It is not that music can’t be spiritual. In some sense, it might well be argued that there is something innately spiritual in most music regardless of the intent of either the composer or the player.
This is to take nothing away from Person and his album. It is indeed a joyful noise and deserves attention. One of the high points in a disc filled with high points, “Never Far From His Grace” (which Person calls his favorite song of the suite), features some sweet harmonies from the sax section and laid back solo work from Patience Higgins (tenor sax) and Scott Robinson (baritone sax). “The Blessing” has a soft Latin vibe and a soprano sax solo from Person. Vibraphonist Bryan Carrott does some nice work on “Song of Praise.” “Faith Forward” ends the album with a funky touch and, as Person points out, gives everyone a chance to shine and concludes with a major league drum solo from Shinnosuke Takahashi. Why go on? There are 12 tracks and there are 12 highlights.
This is an album you want to hear from beginning to end.