Who Are You? (Blue Note)

Joel Ross

Released October 23, 2020

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2020






“This record is a culmination of our maturing – as people, as a band, within the music – it’s about figuring out who we are,” says Ross. The vibraphonist nurtures his artistry in a continuum. He lets melodies inform improvisation, and collective spontaneity inspire written composition. “I don’t believe in coming into anything with expectations,” he says. “As musicians, we’re just expressing ourselves.”

Inspired by communication through storytelling – a method he absorbed, in part, working with such creative forces as Ambrose Akinmusire, Marquis Hill and Makaya McCraven – and with input from producer Walter Smith III, Ross assembled the album’s narrative in halves. Tracks 1-7 provide setting, as well as character introductions; tracks 8-15, plot twists. Each artist advances the spirit of risk-taking, while maintaining Ross’ vision for story structure.

Who Are You? is the follow-up to Ross’ heralded 2019 debut KingMaker, which made year-end lists in The New York Times (“Joel Ross is already widely known as contemporary jazz’s top prospect. Kingmaker shows that he has what it takes to build something vital”), NPR Music (“KingMaker announces Joel Ross as a crown prince of jazz… the sort of musician who seems to summon the full sweep of the post-bop tradition while tilting decisively toward the future”), and Rolling Stone (“KingMaker, the debut from young vibraphone marvel Joel Ross, featured thrilling back-and-forth improv… But just as striking was the leader’s remarkably assured compositional vision”). Pitchfork wrote that Ross “shines on his debut album, with an approach that feels sly and mysterious… KingMaker is a marvel.”

Track Listing:

1. Dream (Jeremy Dutton) 03:32

2. Calling (Kanoa Mendenhall) 01:01

3. Home (Joel Ross) 09:08

4. More? (Joel Ross) 04:13

5. After the Rain (John Coltrane) 05:20

6. Vartha (Ambrose Akinmusire) 10:34

7. Marshland (Joel Ross) 03:43

8. Waiting on a Solemn Reminiscence (Joel Ross) 04:07

9. King’s Loop (Emily King) 01:02

10. The Nurturer (Joel Ross) 03:17

11. Gato’s Gift (Gabrielle Garó / Joel Ross) 06:08

12. When My Head Is Cold (Joel Ross) 06:44

13. Harmonee (Joel Ross) 01:55

14. Such Is Life (Joel Ross) 04:13

15. 3-1-2 (Joel Ross) 05:02


Joel Ross: vibraphone

Good Vibes 

Immanuel Wilkins: alto saxophone

Jeremy Corren: piano

Kanoa Mendenhall: bass

Jeremy Dutton: drums

Special guest 

Brandee Younger: harp (5, 9, 11-13)

Recorded at GSI Studios, New York, NY, by Jason Rostkowski

Producers: Walter Smith III, Joel Ross

Recording Assistants: Diego Rodoni, Jonathan Hill, Shane Patterson

Mixed and Mastered by Dave Darlington

Photography by Immanuel Wilkins


The sophomore album from Joel Ross, 2020’s Who Are You? showcases the Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based vibraphonist’s expansive post-bop jazz. The record follows his critically acclaimed debut, 2019’s Kingmaker, and again finds him engaging in warm long-form interplay with his distinctive sextet. Joining Ross are pianist Jeremy Corren, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, and drummer Jeremy Dutton — bandmates who all played on Kingmaker. Added to the ensemble this time are bassist Kanoa Mendenhall and harpist Brandee Younger. The addition of Younger is an especially interesting choice. Informed by jazz harp pioneers like Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, she brings an unusual texture to the ensemble. Her presence also means Ross’ group has four chordal instruments (vibes, piano, bass, and harp) interacting at any given time. There’s an impressionistic sound to many of Ross’ songs, as on the opening “Dream.” A wave-like composition, it brings to mind the work of artists like pianist Keith Jarrett and vibraphonist Wolfgang Lackerschmid. There’s also a strong John Coltrane influence that runs through the album that’s particularly evident in Wilkins’ playing. On the minor-key “More?” the saxophonist rubs against the song’s Eastern European folk intimations with his edgy tone and wry note choices. Picking up on his approach, Corren offers his own wild-eyed and dancerly response before Ross dives into the whirling fray. Underlining the Coltrane influence, Ross presents an elegiac and delicately textured rendition of the saxophonist’s “After the Rain,” off his landmark 1963 album Impressions. Where the original was spare and made the most of Coltrane’s small quartet, Ross’ version is more widescreen. He expands Coltrane’s melody with a shimmer of bubble-bright harp and vibraphone tones that fall like water droplets onto a buzzing lake of bowed bass and rippling, woody drum patterns. From there, the group shifts gears into a measured reading of Ambrose Akinmusire’s “Vartha.” A carryover from Ross’ time as a member of the trumpeter’s ensemble, the song starts with a slow churn that sets up a kinetic solo from Wilkins. Ross then responds in kind, launching into a flurry of gyroscopic note spirals. The song ends with an equally frenetic drum outro that segues directly into Ross’ composition “Marshland,” a transition that speaks to the vibraphonist’s interest in having longer musical conversations throughout the album. Elsewhere, he pays homage to the late Argentinian tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri on his soulful and dusky “Gato’s Gift,” and evokes the yearning vocals of Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa with a dual sax and vibraphone melody on the ballad “Harmonee.” With Who Are You?, Ross has crafted another highly engaging small-group album that more than answers the question at hand.

Matt Collar (AllMusic)