The Parable of the Poet (Blue Note)

Joel Ross

Released April 22, 2022

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2022




Vibraphonist and composer Joel Ross returns with stunning conviction, issuing his third release for Blue Note Records: The Parable of the Poet. Steadfast in his commitment to skewing perceptions of improvisation and written composition, the critics’ favorite explores new, more expansive territory with his eight-piece Parables band, bringing together young artists of sharply defined expression: Blue Note labelmate Immanuel Wilkins on alto saxophone, Maria Grand on tenor saxophone, Marquis Hill on trumpet, Kalia Vandever on trombone, Sean Mason on piano, Rick Rosato on bass, Craig Weinrib on drums, and returning special guest Gabrielle Garo on flute.

The album embodies Ross’ collaborative spirit. His lyrical aesthetic activates an ebb and flow from one movement to the next. Moments of intentional discourse drive sections of collective melody and spontaneous counterpoint. “This band is more than just the instruments,” says the Chicago-born, New York City-based artist. “Every person on here means something to me. They’re all my friends. Everybody involved committed themselves to the vision.”

Ross’ vision for the music is at once explicit and mysterious. He seeks to express themes present in parable tellings and retellings, while leaving each story’s particulars open to interpretation. Each title of the seven movement suite references an emotional decision or experience for Ross. But in the studio he focused on fresh interpretations, allowing his past experiences to exist without dictating the band’s present treatment of the music. “I told them, ‘This is what the music is and this is how I want you to approach it — let everything we play be inspired by the melody.’ Not much else was decided,” says Ross, who enjoys “blurring the lines between melody and improvisation,” in part, as a way to facilitate communication and meaningful musical discourse.

Obscuring divisions between scripted and spontaneous is more than a romantic notion. For Ross, it’s truthful and intrinsic. Each composition he explores on The Parable of the Poet represents a near intact improvisation, some dating back to 2017, all of which emerged during creative sessions with his friend and colleague, saxophonist Sergio Tabanico. “We would record it, then I would go back and flesh out the composition,” he says. “I tried my best not to change any harmonic information or add too much more than what was already there. I just tried to organize the information in a manner that would yield sensible improvised group interaction, while giving enough direction.”

That choice prompts striking moments of deep listening and self-orchestrating among Ross and his fellow artists. The first movement “PRAYER” sets a tone of rumination and collective inquiry. Apart from Ross’ tender solo introduction, the piece exercises restraint. “There’s no one person who’s taking the mic,” says Ross. “Everyone has a moment of playing the theme,” kindling shared navigation and discourse.

“GUILT” features moments of ribboned syncopation from Grand following a short, resonant introduction of lyrical elasticity from Rosato. Ross lifted the movement in its entirety from an improvised session. “For me, it’s the most emotional piece,” says Ross, who envisioned Garo’s flute as a bird flying on top of the grounding music. “She’s the one playing the melody almost the entire time,” he says.

Hill’s feature “CHOICES” emerged from nearly 20 minutes of improvisation between Ross and Tabanico. First came the chord, then the notes, finally the theme. In the studio, Ross refrained from writing out chords. Starting with a pedal, he gave his band members the first phrase, knowing they’d somehow make it to the second. “While everyone was learning the tune, I had to give a little more instruction,” he says. “In a perfect world, and if we’d had more time, I would have just kept the tape rolling and captured us getting to it the same way I had with all the other improvisations, but I’m happy we were able to achieve that same feeling regardless of time constraints.”

Inside the booth, Wilkins entered the space Ross had envisioned for “WAIL,” the movement that leads into “THE IMPETUS (To Be And Do Better)” inextricably. “In the studio, Immanuel fully committed to going for what I wanted,” says Ross. “We didn’t have to talk much about it – he understands the music and what it needs.” Wilkins takes time and space developing a statement that engages what Ross considers the dance happening around the music, before Vandever enters with striking intentionality. “While we’re performing, there’s this silent thing happening, showing something. So I imagine us as dancers trying to express these emotions.”

Grand, Mason and Ross each hold space on “DOXOLOGY (Hope),” the album’s briefest movement. Its bright tempo requires Rosato and Weinrib wholly to embody walking, groove, and free departure and return; that elastic feel bonded with a minor atmosphere serve as a vessel for the horns to become a small choir. “I saw them as the praise team,” says Ross, who orchestrated the movement to lead into “BENEDICTION,” the album’s final piece. “A benediction is the way we would leave in church, ending on a Good Word,” says Ross, who wanted Mason’s feature to activate the final movement. “What I love about working with Sean is that I don’t have to tell him about anything musically,” he says. “BENEDICTION” builds on major 3rds with the indication of an unending gesture. Fittingly, the music fades: “I didn’t want people to hear it end, because it can keep going on forever.”

Ross rarely includes narrative explanations of anything he plays. For The Parable of the Poet, he leaves his own motivations unvoiced, allowing both listeners and bandmates their unique, experiential readings of the music. “I’m just so interested in what the listener receives, what they take from it,” he says, “the same as you would from any parable.”

Track Listing:

1. Prayer (Joel Ross) 07:45

2. Guilt (Gabrielle Garó / Rick Rosato / Joel Ross / Sergio Tabanico) 09:22

3. Choices (Marquis Hill / Joel Ross / Sergio Tabanico) 07:44

4. Wail (Joel Ross / Craig Weinrib / Immanuel Wilkins) 10:19

5. The Impetus (To Be and Do Better) (Joel Ross / Kalia Vandever) 06:22

6. Doxology (Hope) (Maria Grand / Joel Ross) 03:59

7. Benediction (Sean Mason / Joel Ross) 05:44


Joel Ross: vibraphone

Gabrielle Garo: flute (2)

Marquis Hill: trumpet

Immanuel Wilkins: alto saxophone

Maria Grand: tenor saxophone

Kalia Vandever: trombone

Sean Mason: piano

Rick Rosato: bass

Craig Weinrib: drums

Recorded at Octaven Audio, Mount Vernon, NY

Producer: Joel Ross

Recorded and Mixed by Jason Rostkowski

Assistant Recording Engineer: Charles Mueller

Mastered by David Darlington, Kevin Gray


With his third Blue Note album, 2022’s Parable of the Poet, vibraphonist Joel Ross offers yet another window into his nuanced and sophisticated post-bop world. Where 2020’s Who Are You? found him taking a more compositional, intricately arranged approach, Parable of the Poet feels raw and atmospheric, as if it was recorded live in concert. Technically, the seven tracks on Parable of the Poet make up an album-length suite that seems to be loosely conceptualized around a church service. Featured is Ross’ octet with alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, tenor saxophonist Maria Grand, trumpeter Marquis Hill, trombonist Kalia Vandever, pianist Sean Mason, bassist Rick Rosato, and drummer Craig Weinrib. Working with a deeply organic and improvisational style, Ross allows each song to breathe, taking on new life under his band’s sway. Many of Ross’ spiritually redolent ideas are reflected in the titles, as on “Prayer,” a languid and dreamy opener with a flowing, R&B- and gospel-inspired lyricism. Similarly, “Wail” is pure anguish as Grand and Wilkins soar with throaty intensity over Ross and his rhythm section’s rambling, Charles Mingus-esque groove. There’s also an underlying mix of Latin and classical influences running through much of the album that comes out in subtle ways. “Doxology (Hope)” starts with a frenetic saxophone solo from Grand that leads into a spiraling, flamenco-inflected groove where each soloist takes turns cartwheeling through the circular, minor-key form. Similarly, “Guilt” is a mournful ballad helmed by trombonist Vandever that evokes the dancerly Afro-Cuban work of artists like Ibrahim Ferrer and the Buena Vista Social Club. Also engaging, “Choices” opens with an unaccompanied trumpet solo from Hill that balances warm lyricism with edgy modern classical phrases. From there, Ross leads his group through a slowly moving tone cloud in which the whole band seems to be moaning with a collective grief over all the pain and suffering in the world. Kanoa Mendenhall, drummer Jeremy Dutton, and flutist Gabrielle Garo.

Matt Collar (AllMusic)