A year ago, the New York Times, in a review of keyboardist/composer John Escreet’s second album, boldly declared that the young New York-based British-expat “seems to be thinking about where jazz can go next.” Now, with the June 14th release of The Age We Live In (Mythology), Escreet’s third full-length release as a leader, we know exactly where jazz was headed.
Brimming with originality and diversity, The Age We Live In defines the state of contemporary jazz and finds Escreet and his colleagues pushing past boundaries to invent something truly new. Joining Escreet on piano, Fender Rhodes and keyboards is an all-star group comprised of David Binney (alto saxophone, electronics), Wayne Krantz (guitar) and Marcus Gilmore (drums and percussion), augmented by Tim Lefebvre (bass on two tracks), Brad Mason (trumpet), Max Seigel (trombone) and strings by Christian Howes. The album was co-produced by Escreet and Binney.
“The music on this recording is the most accurate reflection to date of who I am musically,” says Escreet. “It reflects how my listening habits have changed, and more importantly broadened over the past few years. I still tried to make it compositionally very involved in places, still retaining my own voice, yet at the same time I wanted the music to be very open, allowing each member of the group a lot of space to really play. I think the music on this recording achieves this, and is naturally more ‘accessible’ without being dumbed down in any way.”
For Escreet, The Age We Live In marks the latest chapter in a career that can already be described as remarkable, especially for an artist still in his twenties. Born in Doncaster, England, Escreet moved to New York five years ago and immediately attracted some of the most prominent names in cutting-edge jazz. His group the John Escreet Project quickly built a devoted audience among fans, critics and fellow musicians, and his debut album, 2008’s Consequences, notched up one superb review after another. Downbeat magazine raved that the recording “signals the jumpstart of a new voice in jazz” while AllAboutJazz.com wrote, “Consequences is a discriminating work from a promising talent and one of the brightest releases of 2008.”
Those kudos only multiplied with the release last year of Don’t Fight the Inevitable, Escreet’s sophomore effort. The New York Times again sang his praises, stating that Escreet, on the album, “used lots of structure and instrumental texture, cruising through different languages, straight-ahead and free and in between; it’s like a tour of the last 25 years of serious jazz.” The Ottawa Journal opined, “Don't Fight the Inevitable is a bracing disc that confirms Escreet's emergence as a challenging and eloquent artist.”
As impressive as all of those homages are, they can’t possibly prepare the listener for the exhilarating experience of The Age We Live In, which takes the forward-thinking Escreet’s artistry to another level. Escreet and his esteemed collaborators draw from a bottomless well of influences, then mix them all up, constantly shooting off into unexpected directions.
Nor can all of those rave album reviews stand in for the thrill of experiencing Escreet live, whether playing with a quintet, quartet, trio or solo. Commenting on a London performance, the U.K.’s Guardian exclaimed that Escreet and his band “played plenty of spiky free-improv, quiet speculation and taut contemporary grooves, and the young audience looked gripped,” while the ever-supportive New York Times noted after a Manhattan club date that Escreet “approaches music with a broad perspective and a knack for drawing connections.”
Those connections are evident on the new release as well. Says Escreet, “Wayne, Dave and Marcus are all such strong and unique personalities on their respective instruments, that it made the task of writing music for this project fairly easy, knowing how they all play, and knowing what kind of unique musical personalities I had to write for. The very prospect of them diving in and dealing with whatever music I would come up with, only pushed me further, and inspired me to be more creative in my musical endeavors."
The Age We Live In is a major statement from a prolific talent who has unquestionably moved beyond the “new name to watch” stage. From now on, it would seem that the age we live in might just be known as the John Escreet Age.