Two years ago, when Jamison Ross released his Concord Jazz debut, Jamison, you could have reasonably called it a curveball. To the extent that Ross was known in jazz circles, he was known as a drummer — and not just any drummer. I first got to know him by watching him take top honors at the 2012 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, prevailing in a heavy field.
What made Jamison such a surprise was the singing: Ross introduced us to his clear, sweet tenor, with an assured and soulful delivery. He didn’t sound as if he was dabbling. Like the inimitable drummer-turned-singer Grady Tate, whom we lost this month, Ross seemed to be accessing a first love. He was a vocalist no less than a drummer, and seemed determined to be heard that way.
He’ll push that message even further on his sophomore album, All for One. Due out early next year on Concord Jazz, it’s a vocal showcase in every respect, spanning a range of style but with Ross always front and center at a microphone. As on Jamison, he’s leading a band that includes Chris Pattishall on piano and Rick Lollar on guitar. (The new additions are Barry Stephenson on bass and Cory Irvin on organ and Fender Rhodes.) And as before, Ross emphasizes a natural bond with New Orleans, his adopted hometown.
But there are no instrumentals this time around, unless you count the wordless cries on a troubled elegy called “Tears and Questions.” That’s one of several persuasive Ross originals on the album, dealing variously with the subjects of devotion and homesickness, despair and reassurance. (After “Tears and Questions” comes a gospel exhortation called “Keep On.”)
The album’s lead single, which has its premiere here on WBGO, is an elegant treatment of the songbook standard “Don’t Go to Strangers.” Opening in a quiet rubato, the track slowly moves into gentle, swaying time. It’s a beautiful showcase for Ross’s rapport with Pattishall, and it demonstrates his unhurried composure as a balladeer.
“Don’t Go to Strangers” is best known as a calling card for Etta Jones, who made it the title of an album on Prestige in 1960. It has been reinvented every now and again — by Amy Winehouse with Paul Weller on British television, for instance. I’m especially fond of a version by Joni Mitchell. But Ross has also performed it in public before: last year, on a Jazz Night in America tribute to engineer Rudy Van Gelder, recorded live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.
All for One — the title track is a tune by the New Orleans keyboardist and singer-songwriter Willie Tee — will be released on Concord Jazz on Jan. 26.