Joel Cross began playing guitar at the age of twelve. In 2003 he began college at the University of Houston where he studied jazz with Mike Wheeler, Noe Marmolejo and Woody Witt. While in Houston he played for the universities big band and had the pleasure of performing with Randy Brecker and Tim Hagans. In 2006 Joel transferred to the University of North Texas to continue his studies in jazz. He performed in several of the schools jazz ensembles and enjoyed playing with great musicians Fred Hamilton, Lynn Seaton, John Abercrombie and Eric Scortia. He has also played the at the Gulf Coast Ethnic heritage Jazz festival in Alabama with the Tatiana Mayfield Quintet where he shared the stage with Dave Valentine. His debut album Just Reach features 10 tracks with Joel Cross on guitar, Shea Henley on drums and Scot Mulvahill on bass.
A steady drum and bass intro is heard at the beginning of the first track Cloud Nine. Soon the guitar follows and continues with a melodic motif. Joel’s voice warms up the ears with excellent vibrato. Soulful phrases are accompanied by the creative use of the cymbals by Shea Henley. Scot Mulvahill plays a consistent bass ostinato that supports the character of this tune. This tune has a nice groove that makes you want to move with the beat and pulse. The full sound of this piece comes together and you hear a full unit of sound.
The third track Just Reach is definitely in the right mood. Well crafted notes are heard from Joel as he keeps the flow going while singing. Once again the drums keep a very good movement going that is solid and helps the music beat. I noticed that the bass player plays with a musical overtone and not necessarily as if he is only just going by the chord changes. You hear improvisation in the guitar with downward melodic patterns that is very inventive. Joel shows off his skills in musical fashion. You can feel a sentimental atmosphere in this tune.
A guitar and bass introduction start the sixth track Journey On. A wide range of notes are heard from Joel as he sings very effective phrases. Sharp down beats are instigated by the guitar and drums as they are in synch with one another in particular rhythm. Improvisation full of feeling is played by Joel on the guitar. Virtuoso improvisation that require excellent control is also performed on guitar. A pleasant groove that is characteristic of some of the tunes on this album is definitely noticed here.
Dexterity is displayed by Joel on the guitar at the beginning of the eighth track One Way. The pace is brisk and Shea Henley on drums is keeping it moving with impressive direction and control. A funky groove makes you want to move with some taste of the blues as well. An arsenal of musical phrasing and ideas is put in full effect on the guitar. This tune is cool in style and in the fierce playing that it brings. Joel is no less effective on voice as he helps add the unique energy with his singing.
I had the pleasure of attending the University of Houston with Joel as we were both music majors and I am not surprised that he has achieved success on jazz guitar. He is talented not only on the guitar but in singing as well. Joel brings the one two punch combination in bringing his talents to the jazz trio form. In his album Just Reach I feel the jubilant energy of church music, the groove of funk, the feeling of the blues and the structure of jazz. Joel’s maturity as a musician shows in this album when you hear not only his improvisation but also in the pure sound and dynamic versatility that you hear in these pieces. He also has good players surrounding him. I recommend this album to all jazz listeners.
For more information check out Joel’s website at: