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Alto saxophonist Jacob Duncan was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. While he attended the University of North Texas, spent time playing in Europe, lived for a spell in New York, and saw much of the world while working on a cruise ship, he has since resettled in Louisville where he is an important part of the local music scene. Duncan composed all seven songs on It’s Alright To Dream — several of which salute personal heroes — for a quintet that also includes tenor saxophonist JD Allen, pianist Gabriel Evens, bassist John Goldsby and drummer Michael Hyman. His music covers a wide range of moods and tempos and is tied to the straightahead tradition while being forward-looking and unpredictable. The same can be said for Duncan’s inventive alto playing.
The opening “Oomamaboomba Boulevard (Ode to Eva Hesse)” is a brooding strut based around a drum riff. “Cartoons (Ode to Thomas Nast),” which has a melody reminiscent in its off-beat accents of Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence,” is an uptempo exploration of rhythm changes that gives Duncan, Allen and pianist Evens opportunities to stretch out a bit. “Don’t Count the Days” (a tribute to Muhammad Ali’s statement “Don’t count the days, make the days count”) has a samba feel, an advanced melody and the leader progressing in his solo from relatively mellow to quite intense.
The relaxed medium-tempo ballad “It’s Alright To Dream” includes a fine bass solo from Goldsby. The driving free-bop “Dear Isadora” — which bears a dedication to dancer Isadora Duncan, an ancestor of the saxophonist — is followed by the episodic and often explosive “Natched Up.” The latter features close interaction between Duncan and drummer Hyman along with a quick repetitive theme. The invigorating set closes with the celebratory and ragged “Kentucky Mud Shuffle,” a spirited romp worthy of Charles Mingus. It’s Alright To Dream will maintain listeners’ attention throughout the diverse program, which serves as an excellent introduction to Duncan’s talents.— Scott Yanow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAPflGfN5xI
Featured photo by Mickie Winters.