Search for an Essence: Caleb Wheeler Curtis

Young reeds player Caleb Wheeler Curtis, whose evolution I have been watching with great pleasure, continues to amaze his audience. He is not afraid to dive into the depths of an ocean of sounds waiting to be discovered, and his music reflects the joy of a child who is surprised at every new discovery.

The recent album is no exception.

Heatmap is due out July 15, 2022 via Imani Records, the home of his two previous solo albums – Brothers (2018) and Ain’t No Storm (2021). The quartet is top drawer, with Orrin Evans on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums.

In fact, Curtis participated in collective projects like the ensemble Walking Distance in 2 albums (Neighborhood in 2015 and its follow-up, Freebird in 2017) and the trio Ember, whose 2021 album, No One Is Any One included Orrin Evans as a guest. The relation between Curtis and Evans is extensive. Caleb appeared on both Grammy-nominated albums of Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band and Evans’ 2016 album #knowingishalfthebattle.

On the other hand, Eric Revis is no stranger to Evans whom they teamed up in collective trio Tarbaby and played bass in Curtis’ Brothers album. Gerald Cleaver, one of the first-calls of the craft, have colloborated in Revis’ trio.

As a result of all these web of connections, that is to be “the Orrin Evans extended universe”, it is not surprising that the team that played in Caleb’s Heatmap sounds perfectly bonded and is almost like a working band. It is a fun journey with great camaraderie.

It is appearant that Curtis have written the tunes with ‘the’ specific band in his mind. Curtis “likes music with space in it and wanted to appreciate the sound of the music in the air.” The compositions breathe and leave efficacious space for the able partners to extend the ideas for inventing new paths.

Album’s opener “Heatmap” starts with Evans’ searching notes and after Curtis’ entrance to enlarge the space, the collective rises up to explore the stratas of the composition. “Surrounding” seems to be written and interpreted with Ornette in mind.

Limestone” has the feeling of flying over a landscape and yields a meditative prayer. The tension that is slightly increased by drum and bass sets the mood and following Revis’ solo Curtis’ reading the scene is one of the magnificient moments of the album.

Curtis switches to soprano saxophone for “Trees for the Forest” which progresses as if portraying of a lone tree in the crowdedness of a forest, in a requiem quality. His fluent and vibrato-less soprano playing is definitely original and “C(o)urses” proves it right too, where the band plays in close to ecstasy state.

Trembling” becomes a kind of tour de force for Revis and Cleaver as they dig deeper and deeper, especially in times where Evans lays off. Curtis’ alto playing here is par excellence as is the entire album.

Thanks to Evans looping notes and blocked chords he decorated in the final section, the closer, “Spheres” is hypnosis seance. I wished it was not over with fade out.

Curtis is right, what matters most is “the action – in the making of the music.”

What he accomplished in his young age tells us that Caleb Wheeler Curtis is blossoming lotus flower. His musical vision is pure, his craft is equipped with strength, resilience and vitality.

In my comprehension, Heatmap is a record which is designed and executed to free the open-minded listener in his/her reading the tunes. Even for those who can not coalesce with what he/she listens, Heatmap has several stimulating moments to force listener back to be a part of the record. This is a gift for the one who is ready to accept.

Take it or…. take it!

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