“Bleu” is a Promising Debut

Released this spring, Hermon Mehari’s “Bleu” is his first CD as a leader. (photo by the cover’s designer, James O’Mara)

Trumpeter Hermon Mehari is a well-known figure in the world of Kansas City jazz — and beyond. Since receiving his music degree from UMKC in 2010, Mehari has garnered international recognition as winner of the 2015 Carmine Caruso International Trumpet Competition; in 2014 he was a semifinalist in the 2014 Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition. Also in 2014, Kansas City’s Charlotte Street Foundation recognized him with a Visual & Generative Performing Artist Award.

This past spring, Mehari released “Bleu,” his first CD recorded under his own name. It’s a memorable listening experience.

Stylistically, the music on “Bleu” strikes a balance between smooth jazz themes — minus the glib simplicity that pervades so-called “easy listening jazz” — and post-bop improvisational sensibilities. This amalgamation of genres and styles is held together by a supple exploration of structure and texture.

Mehari’s clear, graceful solos and robust tone mesh well with an all-star band of up and coming millennials including Aaron Parks on piano, Logan Richardson on alto sax, Peter Schlamb on vibraphone, and an adventurous, empathetic rhythm section comprising Ryan J. Lee on drums and Rick Rosato on bass.

Mehari and Logan, paired in the classic jazz front line of sax and trumpet, are a perfect fit, with the concise, warm, lyrical statements of Mehari’s solos set against Logan’s more aggressive tonal excursions. As each musician pursues his individual aesthetic, the contrast makes for a dynamic tension.

Special mention should be made of pianist Aaron Parks’ crystalline punctuated phrases. They are joyous and vivid. On the selection “Eleven Thirteen Une Nuit Noir,” Parks is the fulcrum of the band. Whether he is soloing or comping behind Mehari and Logan, the ensemble relies on him to pull it all together.

Kansas City vibist Peter Schlamb’s inclusion adds a fleet quicksilver voice to the sextet. Schlamb has gigged throughout the country, usually with his own trio and as an occasional member of Dutch saxophonist Ben Van Gelder’s group. In “Bleu,” he adds an extra harmonic voice that lends an immediacy and urgency to the ensemble.

The cut “Awakening” is really a feature for the rhythm section. Rosato and Lee can burn the groove when called upon as the soloists trade fours and then quickly shift the proceedings, entering into the final theme with languid open spaces.

“Bleu” is a promising debut for a young artist coming into his own as a trumpeter and a leader, who hopefully will take on more challenges that push his prodigious talent.

For more information and purchasing options, visit www.hermonmehari.com

About The Author: James Brinsfield

James Brinsfield

James Brinsfield, who was a regular contributor to Downbeat magazine, is an artist who teaches two classes in the painting department at the Kansas City Art Institute. He is represented by Haw Contemporary gallery in Kansas City.

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