Review: Premium Blend, 'S.O.A.P.' 

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Premium Blend
S.O.A.P. (Sum of All Parts)

There’s no denying that Indianapolis has a rich history of jazz music, with a long list of greats dating back many, many decades to the days of Indiana Avenue. But this is 2015. And luckily, for a 24-year-old like myself, plenty of innovative tunes are still being made by the city’s current generation of exciting young jazzers.

With influences that include everything from hip-hop to hard-bop, Premium Blend is an excellent example of a modern Indianapolis jazz group making well-informed tunes for a 21st century audience of listeners. Regularly playing the Chatterbox on Sunday nights, the four-piece is led by tenor saxophonist Jared Thompson, whose warm and inviting sax style is a direct reflection of the humble 33-year-old’s radiating personality. When accompanied by his impressive backing band, Thompson’s stirring sax work is further accentuated which makes for an engaging listen at each and every gig.

After performing in the Indianapolis area for more than a decade, Premium Blend has now unveiled their debut album, S.O.A.P. (Sum of All Parts). A cohesive collection of 13 tracks, the release stays true to the quartet’s refreshing live sound, channeling a variety of non-jazz influences while still maintaining a hard-hitting jazz foundation. In staying true to its title, S.O.A.P. shines a light on all four parts of Premium Blend as well, with exceptional playing from guitarist Ryan Taylor, keyboardist/bassist Steven Jones and drummer Cassius Goens III.

After hearing coins enter a washing machine on the album’s opening track, the listener is pulled into the S.O.A.P. experience with a Thompson-written, John Coltrane-inspired number “Trane of Thought.” The Jones-written “Robin Sage” follows this track, with a pair of Taylor-written tracks (“The Abyss and the Luminescence” and “Eye of the Dragonfly”) also surfacing later in the album. Despite having multiple songwriters, the sum of S.O.A.P. is wrinkle-free, with each new track simply giving the listener a more complete picture of the group as a whole.

While displaying a tightly knit togetherness, each member of Premium Blend is also given his time to shine through a unique four-part title track that briefly shows its face in fragments throughout the album. For example, “S.O.A.P., Pt. I” is the album’s fourth track and highlights Taylor on guitar, while “S.O.A.P., Pt. IV” comes in at track 12 and highlights Goens III on drums. All in all, this strategic move greatly enhances the album’s overall message as well, proving to listeners that Premium Blend really is a sum of all its parts by the time S.O.A.P. concludes with the buzz of a clothes dryer.

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