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  • Jonathan Widran

BLAIR BRYANT, Cerulean Blue

Quickly evolving from contemporary jazz reviewers’ prediction that he would be “The Next” to the breakthrough reality that he’s “The Now,” composer, producer and bass and keyboard virtuoso Blair Bryant is making a powerful impact on the contemporary urban jazz scene with his second full length album Cerulean Blue.

Practically the minute the collection was released, he became one of the genre’s breakthrough artists of the late 2010s, with its first single, the buoyant, funky and brass-fired “Sun Chaser” featuring saxophonist Darren Rahn, hitting the Top Ten on the Groove Jazz Music chart and receiving airplay on SiriusXM’s Watercolors.

The influential station has since had in its rotation two other tracks mixed (and given the format Midas touch) by Rahn, including the snappy, soulful and lyrical “Indigo Hour” and the emotional and hypnotic, Eastern tinged “Fukushima Tears,” featuring Najee (with whom Bryant is currently touring) soaring on flute. Two other sure fire hits in the making are the lively, richly infectious “Morning Prayer,” which features the richly intertwined duality between Bryant and guest guitarist Blake Aaron; and the breezy and whimsical “Sapphire Rain, featuring the alternately silky and peppy trumpet grace of Preston Smith.

All this out of the box success within the inviting rhythmic flow of smooth jazz dovetails perfectly with Bryant’s explanation of the colorful album title. To celebrate his graduation in Jazz Studies from the University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory of Music in 2017, he and his family took a Caribbean cruise – and spent time in port on the beaches of Jamaica and Grand Cayman. He learned the shade of the water there was cerulean blue, and that fit perfectly in with his intention to create a breezy, tropical feeling album.

While all this may cause you to think this is easy grooving smoothness from start to finish, Bryant’s much too multi-faceted to limit himself to a single vibe. In an era where many artists focus on one at a time single releases and Eps, Bryant – over the course of 12 tracks and a generous full hour - takes us on a true journey, a stylistically eclectic and ultra-adventurous romp through a multitude of styles (contemporary jazz, jazz fusion, traditional jazz, pop, R&B, etc.) that his manager Damon has described as “a smorgasbord for the jazz lover.

With the aptly titled “Squid,” we’ve got a trippy, highly improvised synth and keyboard light funk adventure with a seductive bass solo. That sets the stage for the bold, even more daring mind and soul bender “Hurricane,” a fusion jam whose potent sax hook by Donald Hayes snaps our senses between wild synth tripping and bass jamming; The title track “Cerulean Blue (For Ebj)” is a dreamy tune blending Bryant’s increasingly plucky bass magic with caressing ambiences and subtle wordless vocals. Another standout is the tempo shifting (from easy swing to a more aggressive groove), traditional flavored jazz ballad “Dolphin Suite” featuring the burning sax energy of Ernest Melton.

This sort of joyful schizophrenia is probably inevitable when you play the multitude of instruments Bryant does. A fiercely grooving bassist whose arsenal includes the upright double bass, electronic fretless, 7 string electric Conklin, 6 string ESP and 5 string Fender jazz bass, the consummate musician also plays acoustic and electric guitar, drums, congas bongos, piano, organ, Fender Rhodes, synth keyboards, vibraphone, bells, marimba and tympani.

Najee has praised him as “a contemporary Stanley Clarke,” and his vast array of talents, virtuosity, melodic and harmonic skills and improvisational abilities on numerous basses and keyboards have also garnered him prescient comparisons to many other legends he counts as inspirations, including Marcus Miller, Joe Sample, George Duke and Jeff Lorber. With his amazingly supple hands and expansive musical vision, a multitude of torches are being passed to the new generation.

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