New Music Monday: James McGowan and Friends are REACHING IN and Pulling Out Something Special

Jazz meets classical meets contemporary with a touch of spoken word, James McGowan Ensemble’s Reaching In is the second album I’ve grown rather fond of recently despite being extremely far outside my standard wheelhouse. For me, the “Imagine” trilogy of spoken word performance sprinkled throughout the album is where the Ensemble hits most close to home, but the largely instrumental album is a stellar listen from the first note to the last.

The concept for the album seems to be an expansion on the “Imagine” poem itself, with lines from the poem appearing in track titles and musical concepts of songs seemingly tied closely to the words of the poem. Originally recited at a live concert in 2022, James has clearly woven this poem into a larger concept album that showcases contemplation of the world’s ills and life’s struggles with incredible music compositions performed by an all-star cast of musicians alongside James himself.

The second part of the “Imagine” trilogy within the album is my personal favorite, with a jazzy backdrop and the same type of poetic feel you get from the beat poets and early hip hop. If one could imagine what Def Jam style poetry performance may have felt like if performed in an earlier time with a true jazz canvas to paint on, this is exactly the vibe I get from the poem – particularly this section of the poem.

The album’s influences clearly come from a large variety of musical inspiration. With smooth jazz in some tracks giving way to big band era style or classical flow. Sometimes the jazzy flow is less “smooth jazz” and more Chicago. A few moments within certain tracks even feel a bit country or Western inspired. Fans of instrumental music, especially with a jazz flair, will no doubt love this album.

Check out the album on Bandcamp and Spotify now. And check out more from James and friends at his website.

Justin has been running websites since his first Geocities site in 1994, but only did he ever start covering anything of substance years later. After he stopped regularly running local concerts in Northern NJ and the greater Philly area, he knew he needed to step up his writing game if he expected to continue to get free music to listen to. He writes regularly here and at Cinapse, as well as contributing to a few other sites on occasion. He likes music, film, the Philadelphia Eagles, the 76ers, talking about Criminal Justice, reading Intelligence Report, and his family... not in that order. His beautiful wife is far more talented than he is and his kids far more adorable... and crazy.
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