Kalia Vandever ~ Regrowth

Springtime is finally upon us – nature is bursting into life all around. The mornings and evenings are lighter, the birds sing, the flowers bloom. The ongoing renewal and rebirth of flora and fauna are (just about) enough to lift the spirits in what continues to be a challenging year.

It is fitting that Kalia Vandever should time the release of her second album with these moments of wonder and elevation. There can be no coincidence that she releases her albums in May, or that the titles chime in with the season. Her 2019 debut was In Bloom – this year, its follow-up is called Regrowth. While the first album was a strong opening statement, Vandever has developed considerably on its sequel.

The trombone remains a relatively rare lead instrument in a jazz ensemble: it lacks the cool or caché of the saxophone or trumpet, possibly because it looks somewhat awkward, like a giraffe running in a herd of wildebeest. There hasn’t been an equivalent of a Miles or Charlie for the trombone, so positioning the instrument front and centre – as it is on In Bloom and Regrowth – gives a freshness to the music being played.

Vandever’s compositions are bright, airy, and immediately appealing with subtle nods to both post- and prog-rock. The sextet play with the fluid understanding of a group who have rehearsed and performed together a lot. A key addition following In Bloom is alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins who adds a fresh layer of interplay with Vandever’s trombone and sparks some fine soloing from both players. Lee Meadvin’s guitar offers supportive underpinning until the moment arrives when he can step forward; sometimes a bluesy solo, other times a controlled burst of electricity.

Regrowth is very much a showcase for Kalia Vandever, though. From the lyrical solo of the undulating opener “Soft” through the reflective compositions such as “More Of The Good Stuff Later,” this is a bandleader with a clear vision for her work. Solos are distributed among the players, but none are over-indulged. Vandever’s own moments in the spotlight are not overly flashy but demonstrate the lovely tones of the trombone. It’s enough to make you wonder why there haven’t been more trombonists leading ensembles in the past.

It is clear that In Bloom was a vital first step in Vandever’s artistic development; it was the first time she had recorded an album, and she learned a lot by releasing it herself. Regrowth is a confident stride forwards. Having negotiated the loss and trauma of the Covid pandemic, this is an artist optimistically re-entering the world. Released as spring is in full swing, Regrowth is a tribute to creation and persistence: both in nature and artistically. (Jeremy Bye)

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