Vibraphonist James Westfall made a significant impact on the New Orleans jazz scene when he arrived in 2000 as student at the University of New Orleans. By invitation, the Houston native then headed to California to attend the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, where he studied under giants like keyboardist Herbie Hancock and trumpeter Terence Blanchard. There he met up with the musicians heard on Independent his debut release as leader. The time this group of diverse players spent together and the seriousness they bring to the endeavor of studying jazz is fully realized in the cohesiveness of this extremely fresh work. Westfall’s compositions display his range of interests including thoughtfully executed electronics, rap, romance and drama and provide a solid base for the musicians’ collective and singular expressions. The lovely ballad “Song for Harry Potter” benefits from Westfall and his band members’ keen sense of dynamics, as delicately quiet moments flow into impassioned blowing by trumpeter Dontae Winslow and saxophonist Gilad Ronen. “Acceptance” is another Westfall beauty with his technical prowess on vibes matching his dramatic passion. Alan Hampton’s bowed bass and the heralding of the trumpet brings an almost classical tinge to “Journey Through the Island.” Independent proves that this band of musical mavericks has indeed arrived and is here to stay.
Westfall celebrates the CD release at Snug Harbor on October 29.