Review by Brad Walseth
With "The Free Project," pianist and educator Dr. Keith Javors has created an intriguing recording that blurs the boundaries between straight ahead Jazz and Rap music. Starting off with the peaceful solo piano of "Free," the music charges into the hard charging modern jazz of "The Journey." Dane Bays on alto sax trades solo thrusts with the bandleader, whose delightfully creative keyboard work drives everything, but it is DeJuan "D Priest" Everett's rapping over the top that truly marks this as new and different. A version of Rodgers & Hart's "Spring is Here" follows and truly nails down what Javors is up to here. Straight-forward R&B vocals by Curtis Isom, a melodic piano break, wailing sax by Bays and more rapping. Javors' updating of the jazz idiom doesn't reek of a desperate attempt at commercialization, but rather seems more like an honest effort to bridge the gap between old and new.
Bassist Dave Ziegner and drummer Alex Books round out the core group, with Dave Braun (trumpet/flugelhorn), Luke Brimhall (trombone), Brian Menendez and Jason Miller (aux. percussion) adding their talents. "Places" is a lovely piece featuring evocative piano, plaintive saxophone and a range of percussion sounds and what sounds like the wind that surprisingly erupts into a stirring finale. That this follows with a Latin-influenced rap number should by now be no surprise, since it is clear Javors is interested in exploding conventions, but still the juxtaposition is startling. What's next, a Bee Gees' number? Believe it or not, yes. The Brothers Gibbs' "How Deep is Your Love" becomes an R&B-flavored piano jazz standard in Javors' hands.
The rest of this album continues merging compelling piano-driven jazz music with R&B, Rap, New Age, Gospel ("I Need You Now") and even African drumming on the kaleidoscopic "The Philosophy of Bill Brown." The end result is that The Free Project is an interesting release that will keep the listener off-balance nicely with its sense of musical freedom, while marking Javors as an artist with a colorful palette of sound.
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