James McGowan – Reaching In (ENG review)

Street June 23th 2023
Jazz moderne
James McGowan – Reaching In

Note: Reaching In is the first half of an extended story told through music, spoken-word program notes, and visual art. It depicts the protagonist’s journey from struggles of isolation, low self-worth, social anxiety, addiction, and loss, to finding peace, acceptance, belonging, and a sense of community. This multi-movement suite, composed and performed by pianist James McGowan, blends classical and jazz styles with influences of free improvisation, hip-hop, and Latin styles. It combines the Modasaurus jazz-fusion quartet with the Despax string quartet at its core, and several pieces also feature an expanded ensemble with Petr Cancura and Mike Tremblay on tenor saxophone, Ed Lister on trumpet, and Mark Ferguson on trombone.
The work is at times theatrical in its parts, sometimes classical, sometimes jazz-inspired, but undoubtedly a grand and beautiful artistic creation, somewhat radical, which will only appeal to those of you capable of being moved by a work of art to the point of feeling the need to discuss it among friends. Few works of this style are created nowadays, which is all the more reason to take an interest in it. To be honest, it takes several listens to fully grasp the richness of this work, as it can be bewildering at times. But after all, true art is meant to make us look, read, or listen deeply, and Reaching In encompasses all of that.
The CD cover/digital album art featuring An Nguyen’s painting of Reaching In also adds a visual dimension that brings meaningful metaphors to the overall narrative. The poetry, art, and music take us through a story of overcoming personal challenges to offer an uncertain yet hopeful future. The album seeks to engage the listener with their mind, heart, and soul. It is a comprehensive work, with a cover that is as interesting and beautiful as the work it is supposed to contain. One can only hope that this work can be performed in public, as I believe that is the only space where we can truly experience all the emotions it evokes.
James McGowan is a pianist (jazz and classical), improviser, accompanist, composer, arranger, music theorist, and educator, in addition to his research and administrative activities as a faculty member in the Music program at Carleton University. The students are fortunate to have such a creative professor. On this album, whether it’s the sound recording, mixing, or arrangements, everything is up to the standard of the work, which places it in the category of “Essential” according to the reviews from Bayou Blue Radio and Paris-Move.

Thierry De Clemensat
Correspondent in USA
Bayou Blue News – Bayou Blue Radio – Paris-Move

PARIS-MOVE, June 15th 2023