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  • Writer's pictureJAM

Hermon Mehari: Arc Fiction

Sometimes I wonder where contemporary jazz is, what’s it really sounds like now?

This is it.

Trumpeter Hermon Mehari’s new album is stamped with newness, fresh and original. There’s no Kenny Clarke spang-a-lang ride cymbal because there’s no cymbal at all. It’s just contemporary jazz trumpet and piano, weaving a web of what’s new.

The album is full of energy and thoughtful headiness, sparse but hip: minimalistic, fragmented, and postmodern for stretches like a jagged city skyline, then grooving and straight ahead like the plains, flatlands: all tallgrass and heather, smooth.

Some of the tunes are meditative and intellectual, thought experiments on or reimaginings of jazz standards. (And there are a lot of quotes from golden age jazz along the way, along the roads of these improvisations.) Other tunes groove hard and are not only contemporary but are entirely new: airy and full of space. Many will remember Mehari, since he came up through the Kansas City jazz system. He was once a regular at The Blue Room Blue Monday Jam, now a couple decades ago. His star has risen since then, and he lives in Paris, an international success. He returns to KC occasionally, such as to headline a Jazz and Blues Festival. And he collaborates with KC’s Peter Schlamb on vibraphone. As of earlier this year, Hermon Mehari hosts an hour-long music program Saturday evenings at 7pm on KCUR FM.

Hermon Mehari’s tone is unique. His tone is more like Freddie Hubbard’s or Lee Morgan’s than Miles’s round sound. His tone is like bright-white-light refracted through a kaleidoscope: pure, but split into colorful pieces, dazzling to the senses, and unusual how it is cut up. An award-winning trumpeter, Mehari’s playing won him the 2015 Carmine Caruso International Trumpet Competition. Arc Fiction is one of Mehari’s early albums as a bandleader, this is his third album in that role.

This is a remarkable album, a beauty: something for jazzers and non-jazzers alike, listenable as soul or smooth jazz, but as inventive and heady as classical extemporization. With Alessandro Lanzoni on piano, that classical leaning filters through. In a way, this whole album is one inventive duet, two performers in balance, in conversation: a jazz My Dinner with Andre (1981).

Go get it. Know what’s new—and know another strain of what has come out of our great city. There’s a piece of Kansas City in Paris. And you can listen to it now. --Kevin Rabas

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