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  • Jonathan Widran


In my review of Blair Bryant’s second album Cerulean Blue, I raved not only about his virtuosic multi-bass playing and wild proficiency on a multitude of instruments, but also about the supreme eclecticism of the project – which showcased his passions for contemporary jazz, jazz fusion, pop, R&B, etc, which his manager Damon described as “a smorgasbord for the jazz lover.” Most still emerging artists stick with a single vibe and run with it their whole careers, so Bryant’s sense of wild adventure was definitely worth some mad kudos.

There was one issue left unaddressed. While the review explained the inspiration for the album title and cover – a trip to the Caribbean to celebrate the bassist’s graduation from the University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory of Music – I felt both gave the impression that the collection was just a laid back, beachy chill jazz album. Bryant can compose sparkling smooth tunes with the best of them, but the name Cerulean Blue didn’t reflect the fierce, funky, fiery energy he conveys and the powerhouse capabilities he unleashes when he lets loose on the bass.

No such issue exists with the poppin’ title and artwork on Red Tiger, which powerfully convey the intensity, ferocity and overall “badassery” of the 12 track set as a whole, and jams like the two horn intensive tracks that bookend the set in particular - the snappy, buoyant, instantly seductive and infectious (and perfectly titled!) opener “Relentless” and the punchy, percussive “Power UP!” a deep pocket showcase for his intense, high spirited lead bass.

While officially named after Bryant’s hit making custom red 6-string lead bass, the name “Red Tiger” captures Bryant’s ability to take his Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Wayman Tisdale-influenced sounds and sense of sonic adventure and blaze bold trails for both his instrument and love for all styles of jazz. The red leather jacket, the shades and his attempt to grip a mystical light giving stone are all part of the gritty and grounded yet often transcendent and surreal experience.

Beyond the obvious entry points of “Relentless” and “Power UP!,” another enticing opening into the multi-faceted experience of Red Tiger is the second lead single “B’s Bounce,” which is picture perfectd light funk sax tinged (thanks to the incomparable Marqueal Jordan) smooth jazz with a twist – that for all its inviting melodic and groove cool, Bryant gets some high impact solo bass moments both to state the opening melody and for a later solo. The title of the third lead single “Chocolate For Breakfast” – which features even more spectacular lead bass moments - speaks to its sense of deep, soul, whimsy and sparkling tastiness.

For those who want to get some heavy bottom way beyond the radio friendliness, look no further than the trippy, intense and slow burning urban fusion romp “Medusa’s Mirror,” which features the Sweet N Smoky Horns, and Bryant’s amazing skills on acoustic piano, Moog Bass and live drums. While Bryant’s got a lot of top flight guests on this album, part of what makes him such a distinctive artist is that he can create a wild, mind-bending and exotic journey like the title track by playing every instrument.

As you journey through the Red Tiger’s dense yet emotionally and spiritually refreshing sonic jungle, another good spot to check out is “EmberGlow,” a hypnotic, easy flowing horn-drenched ballad which finds Blair a little cooler and more restrained in the presence of his mentor and inspiration, sax great Najee, the guy whose quote comparing Bryant to Stanley Clarke has always been around to set the bar higher – and dare the bassist to reach beyond it. The ultra-romantic ballad “Hello Beautiful,” featuring Freddie Fox’s balmy acoustic guitar, is another delectable slice of dreaminess also featuring Bryant’s more seductive vibe.

Sometimes, cover tunes on mostly original albums can be superfluous, but Bryant makes the two classics he chooses every bit as fascinating and brilliantly performed as his own compositions. He’s all about the sexy vibes on Sade’s “Kiss of Life,” a dreamy, piano-kissed and subtly throbbing twist featuring sensual vocalist Beth Manley, and has a blast pumping up the familiar melody of Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl” with his crazy-low tones, backed by swirling atmospheres and the sizzling horn blasts of alto saxman Jaared Arosemena (who also delivers a knockout solo) and trumpeter Emmanuel Echem.


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