A TOP JAZZ RECORD OF 2014. An emerging artist with a deliberative edginess, the promising young pianist Kris Bowers is full of surprises on his debut disc, Heroes + Misfits, an eclectic thrill ride through amped-up electronic keyboards, soaring saxophones and acoustic piano played over lush soundscapes. Bowers, who recently turned 25, is a Julliard graduate who won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition in 2011 where the judges included Herbie Hancock and Ellis Marsalis. With a diverse knowledge of music, he’s as comfortable playing piano as a featured member of jazz group, The Next Collective, as he is recording with Jay-Z and Kanye West (“No Church In The Wild” from 2011’s Watch The Throne). He’s toured with Marcus Miller and currently opening with his own band for singer José James on James’ national tour as well as playing keyboards in the vocalist’s band and records. As a film composer with a foot in Hollywood’s door, Bowers’ credits include the 2013 documentaries, Seed Of Time and Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.
Bowers’ compositions are replete with the unfiltered confidence that comes from both youth and discipline. After a couple of spins, you get that it’s natural for Bowers to juxtapose synthesized whomp-whomp sonics against rock-infused guitar swells, and it’s a world with which he’s at ease. He forges his sound with ferocious beats and electro-percussion from drummer Jamire Williams and the deep, thumping pitch of bassist Burniss Earl Travis II. Bowers composed most of the 10 tracks and collaborated on the others, every one of them strong and decisive, highlighted by sharp improvisations from saxophonists Casey Benjamin and Kenneth Whalum III. It’s easy to get caught up with “Wake The Neighbors” a slick bounce tune that throbs with a righteous guitar hook supplied by Adam Agati, or the soaring multi-tracked vocals by Julia Easterlin on “Forget – Er,” a spiritualized hang-up on a romance gone sour. The vocalists come on strong midway through the recording (Chris Turner croons with conviction on “Wonderlove”) and this crossroads where jazz meets pop is also where Bowers embraces both. While he’s pulling from every genre, Bowers is not shy about his roots, melding classical-tinged acoustic piano with blazing horns on the multi-faceted “#The Protestor,” a provocative tour-de-force inspired by the uprisings staged around the world in 2011. As a keyboardist, he rules on the trip-hop jazz track, “Vices and Virtues,” with a natural fluidity on the Fender Rhodes and captures a sound that’s uniquely modern yet retro. Of all the bands that shuffle jazz, soul and hip-hop into something potently consumable, Heroes + Misfits makes a persuasive case for Kris Bowers and his leader of the pack sensibilities. (10 tracks; 48 minutes)