Gregory Groover Jr: Lovabye

Bostonian tenor saxophonist leads vibes, piano and more in 11 elegiac, modally inclined originals centred around mid-tempo

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Knowing which musicians give your tunes the most trouble-free outing and how long each should solo is the mark of a mature jazz composer. Aged 30, Boston tenor saxophonist Gregory Groover Jr can claim to be precisely that. His debut album for the Criss Cross label is an animated and lustrous ensemble piece, even if sometimes it’s a tad reticent.

On paper, his pick-of-the-best sextet includes guitar and vibes and promises much. But it’s to Groover’s credit that guitarist Matthew Stevens, he of the Christian Scott band and the NEXT Collective, plays on only three of the 11 tracks. One of them’s the final Cactus Lullaby, of interlude length, like the silky opener, 30, and the three-minute 5660. These brevities, and the liner reference to the album as a “recital”, account for a slight but short-lived feeling of modesty.

It’s a band with clout. Not that his previous all-Boston group failed to impress on Groover’s lauded first full-length album, the Negro Spiritual Songbook Vol. 2. The musicians for Lovabye, kept on terra firma by booming bassist Vicente Archer (heard with Robert Glasper, Nicholas Payton and John Scofield), also include vibraphonist Joel Ross (whom Groover had especially in mind when he wrote three of the tracks), pianist Aaron Parks (ex-Terence Blanchard) and drummer Marcus Gilmore (grandson of Roy Haynes and not averse to promoting some of his grandfather’s licks).

Lovabye is notable for the way the principals cleverly slip and slide off each other when exploring Groover’s themes – he wrote all 11 charts – in ways that make such connections as interesting as the solo improvisations which succeed them and which are generally curtailed. The sax-vibes heads in Stages and In For A Pound Or Penny are mutually enriching.

A few of the tracks resolve their emotional contradistinctions in a musical way: May All Your Storms Be Weathered has Archer, after a break, setting up a firmly-scored way forward for the affirmative Groover; and in Ambivalence, Groover’s affirmation comes after Parks and Ross have artfully delineated the options. On his three tracks, Stevens modifies the textures with unobtrusive figurations that inflate the sextet sound inside Groover’s established parameters.

Discography
(1) 30; (2) Bygone Towers; May All Your Storms Be Weathered; (1) Joy; Lovabye; Stages; 5660; Ambivalence; Lovabye Theme; In For A Pound Or Penny; (2) Cactus Lullaby (44.17)
(1) Groover Jr (ts); Joel Ross (vib); Aaron Parks (p); Vicente Archer (b); Marcus Gilmore (d). New York, 16 August 2023. (2) as (1) but add Matthew Stevens (g).
Criss Cross Jazz 1419