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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
Featured photo by Mickie Winters.