The debut solo effort from jazz trumpeter Jon Crowley, Connections is a cerebral yet propulsive affair that reveals Crowley to be a formidable talent on the rise. Although Connections is clearly a showcase for Crowley's original writing and forward-thinking trumpet playing, the album also features his stellar ensemble of musicians who have played this music extensively together before recording it, lending a true group aesthetic to the material. Joining Crowley here are alto saxophonist John Beaty, pianist Yayoi Ikawa, bassist Peter Schewbs, and drummer Nick Anderson. In fact, Crowley is so deferential to his crew — he doesn't even take a solo on the opening title track — that you sometimes have to remind yourself this is his album. That said, Crowley quickly follows up with the thoughtfully rambling "Momentum," where he delves into a knotty and harmonically layered improvisation. Artfully simplistic, the track is a harbinger of things to come, as much of Crowley's taste leans toward meditative, harmonically deep compositions that create a womb-like atmosphere while allowing for exploratory solos. In that sense, such tracks as the Middle Eastern-tinged "Tabula Rasa," the moody ballad "Ambrosia," and the brooding "Icarus" bring to mind a mix of Billy Strayhorn's complex elegance and Herbie Hancock's early expansive modal compositions. Similarly engaging, the gladiatorial "Vista" builds mid-way through with Crowley and Beaty engaged in a roiling call-and-response battle of wills, and the driving post-bop burner "Right Now" reveals Crowley's obvious love for such trumpet giants as Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw. Ultimately, though, Crowley is not a swaggering, boastful, artistic presence especially for a trumpeter. Which isn't to say he's a jazz wallflower. Rather, Crowley is a thoughtful jazz explorer, happy to crest and undulate on waves of harmonic color as he caravans his way toward the horizon.