Jason Arkins, In Focus Review
Riding the Waves of Modern Jazz: Jason Arkins’ In Focus
by Nolan DeBuke
Aged just 22, Jason Arkins is no ordinary musician. His newly released debut EP, In Focus, underscores his precocious talent as a jazz saxophonist and composer. The youthful musical sensation, a native of Carmel, New York, has begun to etch his name in the jazz landscape, and his first significant recording endeavor demonstrates that claim.
In Focus is an adventurous and compelling project that expands upon the horizons of contemporary and modern jazz. Here, Arkins leads a talented ensemble featuring Beau Cornelius on acoustic and electric pianos, Leo Folsom on synthesizers and organ, Mike Ramos on electric bass, and Jack Dratch on drums. This is not your traditional jazz quintet, with the inclusion of an analog synthesizer imparting an innovative touch to Arkins’ fusion-flavored compositions.
The album opener, “Mister Behaving,” immediately lays the groundwork for what Arkins aims to accomplish. It’s a musical journey teeming with multifaceted textures and dabbles in unusual time signatures, unafraid to test the boundaries of convention. The group’s ability to naturally and fluidly navigate the shifts in time is an early highlight, demonstrating their collective synchronicity. Arkins’ compositional approach is forward-thinking, integrating modern music sounds and textures but maintaining an unmistakable jazz ideology.
The dual keyboard presence of Cornelius and Folsom is a standout element, their combined expertise creating a rich interaction of sounds that enhances the overall ensemble. Ramos’ bass lines are assertive and perpetually in the groove, while Dratch’s drums serve as the beating heart of the group, injecting vitality and fluidity. Arkins’ saxophone solo soars above this sonic landscape, balancing fervor and melodicism in his improvisations.
The title track, “In Focus,” illustrates the dynamic interplay between synthesizers and acoustic piano, adding to the textural richness of the band. The composition is an amalgam of catchy melodies and rhythmic hits underpinned by a funky jazz groove. Cornelius shines in his piano solo, his musical ideas flowing effortlessly across the keys with direction and intent. Arkins’ subsequent solo showcases his wide array of articulations, adding nuances to his melodic lines and enhancing the ensemble’s energy.
In Focus is a stunning musical statement from a promising young musician, a fusion of jazz harmony and colors with today’s modern jazz feels, all embellished with an adventurous foray into post-production as a compositional technique. For jazz aficionados, it offers intricate solos, absorbing rhythms, and a harmonious blend of traditional and modern elements. For the broader listener, it’s a melodic feast that evokes various emotions.
Arkins’ debut EP, In Focus, is just the beginning for this ambitious young saxophonist. His first offering is a strong statement of his artistry and the potential he holds to make significant contributions to Miami’s burgeoning music scene and beyond. Listeners are left eagerly awaiting what he’ll bring into focus next.