Review by Bryan Rodgers
Vandell Andrew’s self-titled debut EP contains just three tracks, but those combined ten minutes speak volumes about the rising sax player. If listeners dig a little deeper, they’ll discover a unique story behind his music. Andrew grew up in New Orleans and started playing trumpet at age 13, soon switching to saxophone at the behest of a teacher. Eventually, Andrew enrolled at Southern University and began studying music under the legendary, improvisation-focused educator and performer Edward “Kidd” Jordan. But Andrew’s opportunity to learn from the master was cut short by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, forcing him to move to Dallas, Texas at age 18. After five years of acclimating himself to Dallas’ music scene, he’s now a rising sax star at the exhilarating age of 23, finding himself in the company of jazz greats like Kirk Whalum and Tom Braxton. This self-titled EP is his first release, and it’s easy to hear how a decade of playing and a life growing up around musicians have coalesced into the mature, confident sound heard here.
Immediately, Andrew’s fearlessness is evident. There’s a certain amount of youthful swagger, blended with his regimented marching-band chops and years of study that pervades his approach. While the overall sound of the EP is mellow, modern cool that often borders on smooth or cocktail, jazz, there’s simply no denying Andrew’s singular voice. Even on the rhythmically mild-mannered opener “Walk My Way,” where breezy acoustic guitars meet swirling synthesizer warbles and neighborly drumming, the sax is noticeably restless. Andrew is a pure, clean player, a trait that often stands in contrast to the whims of musicians with his level of creativity. Improvisers so gifted frequently follow their spirit instead of fussing with sonic quality, but Andrew is able to strike a balance. His big, clear blowing only serves to amplify the impact of his melodic creativity, as evidenced by the playful intro of “At Midnight.” On this emotive tune, Andrew lends drama even to a couple offhanded buildup notes before getting into some conversational, sultry playing that makes an awful lot of entertainment out of 4 minutes.
None of the songs veer very far from the well-traveled, linear track laid by smooth bass grooves, restrained drumming, and broad rhythmic backdrops provided by synthesizers. The final track, “Affliction” is full of bold piano and evocative playing by Andrew, propelled by a beat that is almost purposefully benign. While it’s true that too much rhythmic diversion would dampen the impact of Andrew’s resonant notes, it would have been nice, just for a few of the EP’s five hundred and fifty-nine seconds, to hear what the guy can do when turned completely loose. The crisp, clean air of the smooth jazz set is a fine and fruitful place to be, but Andrew possesses a load of talent begging to be unleashed, and this EP doesn’t give us a very good view of its scope. This release is, hopefully, merely a teaser of what the world will eventually hear from Vandell Andrew.
Review by Bryan Rodgers
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)