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When the music is moody and complex, interpretive quality frequently depends upon the amount of time musicians spend with each other. Vibraphonist Joel Ross has the luxury of helming a “working band,” a group that travels and performs together regularly. Aside from the relatively recent addition of bassist extraordinaire Kanoa Mendenhall, Ross’ Good Vibes quintet remains the same as on his previous, critically acclaimed Blue Note release, KingMaker. And like that beautifully conceived album, Who Are You? rings with the complexity and subtly unfolding expression listeners have come to expect from these consummate young players.Ross’ medium slow-tempo “Home” displays the ensemble’s credo of shunning preconceived arrangements that mandate where a song will lead, how it will develop and how it will end. Group improvisation is at the fore. Using an ostinato pattern as a melody, the group’s lengthy crescendo creates intensity that inspires Jeremy Corren’s piano spotlight. When the vibes are featured, alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins plays backgrounds based on the tune’s four-note melody that inspire Ross to unleash a barrage of well-placed improvised notes.
Nearly every song simmers at a slower tempo, with Jeremy Dutton’s drums remaining front and center. John Coltrane’s “After the Rain” is one of the late saxophonist’s most beautiful ballads. The addition of harpist Brandee Younger provides ethereal backing for Wilkins’ sensitive alto. At 10-plus minutes, “Vartha” is the longest song, allowing ample room for development and a seemingly much-needed workout for the more aggressive side of Wilkins’ saxophone playing. “More” is actually quite succinct, but it’s the most rambunctious cut, coming closest to offering that somewhat recently rare aspect of jazz called “swing.” Since Good Vibes leaves everything up for grabs, complexity would be a moot point without the trust each member has to react, respond and respect one another’s musical intimations. — James Rozzi