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Origin Suite – Michael Waldrop

Origin Suite
Origin Suite – Michael Waldrop

By Dave Gregg

“Origin Suite,” the new jazz CD by drummer and composer Michael Waldrop, is a dazzling potpourri of diverse musical styles and aesthetics, a bold and ebullient example of how jazz forever revitalizes and remains infinite in its form of expression.

In my review of Waldrop’s previous album, his considerable talents were given the following mention:

Waldrop is the indomitable anchor of an ensemble, a master of kinetic energy who plays both authoritatively and with a rare symmetrical beauty. 

With Waldrop’s latest outing, his sublime gifts have shown no signs of slacking.

This scrumptious stew of a recording, cooked at a slow burn and seasoned with the creative gusto and impeccable musicianship we’ve come to expect from Waldrop and his crew, features both small ensemble pieces and big band.

The stylistic journeys throughout Origin Suite range from jaunts into the high caliber fusion reminiscent of Weather Report, to Monk-inspired blues riffs and scorching Latin rhythms, all played with unwavering conviction by the ensemble.

Jack Cooper, the arranger of Waldrop’s previous album “Time Within Itself,” continues to impress as a gifted and influential writer for big band. His imaginative use of the human voice, expertly interwoven into the traditional sonorities of the jazz orchestra has created an exciting new palette of vibrant textures and tonal colors, a unique and dynamic soundscape that might best be described as — dare one say — Cooperesque?

An inspiring example of this is featured in the programmatic piece,  “Origin Suite,” a joyous and free-spirited exhalation of what makes jazz fusion so feel-good and downright intoxicating.

Based on thematic ideas by Waldrop, Cooper sculpts this compositional clay into an astonishing work for jazz ensemble that juxtaposes the rhythmic horsepower of Waldrop, a human juggernaut on the drums, against the preternatural presence of Jimi Tunnel on voice and guitar. Listen to the way Tunnel vocally doubles ensemble lines in the falsetto — an extraordinary effect.

“La Jungla,” inspired by the surrealist paintings of Wilfredo Lam, the celebrated Cuban artist, bursts to life in a frenetic exchange of Afro-Cuban textures and exotic sounds, evoking images — if imagination allows — of Waldrop trading drumsticks for machete as he hacks through thickets of twisted vines in a tropical jungle.  The primal drive of a walking bass line, the enduring heartbeat of this movement, clears a path and establishes the groove for the piece, leading to the funk-inspired first tune in the suite. Tunnel plays the searing guitar solo that threatens to burn everything down around him, including much of Cuba.

The second movement, “Nativite,” offers a harmonious contrast, with an aerial theme that seemingly soars above cloud-covered mountain peaks, the melody doubled by voice and vibraphone. Waldrop’s ruminations on the vibes near the end of the movement almost mirror the tonal quality of wind chimes, the aleatoric flutter of notes more the result of drifting currents of air rather than deliberate intention.

The final movement, “Al Final De La Noche,” is a breezy Latin tune that flies high for the duration, evoking images of palm trees swaying in tradewinds and tall glasses dew-dripped and teeming with Long Island Iced Tea.

A sprightly ostinato in the bass sets the piece in motion, with more vocal and ensemble lines paired in matrimony, suggesting new and inventive colorations to use when scoring large ensembles.

Cooper’s arrangement leaves plenty of room for Waldrop to demonstrate his rhythmic acuity and zen-like precision on the drums, and Mario Cruz rides the wave back to shore with a marvelous tenor sax solo, an effusive surge of tumbling notes amidst hints of ocean spray.

The suite culminates in an ecstatic vamp built off plucky tritone figures, lending an air of native magic to the mischief, followed by tonally ascending rhythmic sections in the ensemble. A stark and eerily provocative passage interrupts the anticipated climax, where the guitar intones seven solemn incantations — suggesting there’s a darker underbelly to the earlier airiness of the piece  — before bringing the suite to an inevitable and exciting conclusion.

The lyrical “Through the Mist,” the first of the small ensemble works on this recording, is a gentle pastoral that prompts deeper contemplation and a willingness to flow with the harmonic landscape, evocative of passing clouds drifting overhead.

“Sheath and Sound” begins with tenor saxophonist Chris McGuire resurrecting hints of Michael Brecker, in a raw and well-played display of fierce inventiveness.

Inspired by the big band style of Gerald Wilson, this impressive composition by Jack Cooper provides an attractive vehicle for the large ensemble — the tune itself echoing the modal constructions of stalwarts like Woody Shaw. Again, vocals play a prominent role in the tonal shadings of the arrangement, aptly performed here by Marc Secura, a German recording artist with the Berlin Jazz Orchestra. Mike Steinel and Steve Synder take lively turns on trumpet and piano.

“Ivana” offers a cheerful contrast to the earlier proceedings. Composed by Waldrop and handsomely arranged by Jack Cooper, the work features an appropriately sunny solo by alto saxophonist, Will Campbell, played with taste and good spirit.

“Mouzon,” a composition by Jimi Tunnel, thrills at every turn with its high-octane propulsion and original vocal effects. Dedicated to the drummer, Alphonse Mouzon, the best of Weather Report echoes throughout this track.

Composed by Waldrop, “Doo Dat Tang,” a Monk-inspired big band feature with possible allusions to the enigmatic “Blue 7” by Sonny Rollins, turns the blues into something inscrutable yet surprisingly compelling. Saucy solos follow, played by Larry Spencer, Tim Ishii, Greg Waits, and Tony Baker. The ensemble writing by arranger Gerald Stockton features a slick sax soli, sparsely voiced and with snatches of lines in contrary motion, along with intriguing ensemble passages barren of traditional harmonic flourishes, but brought to life by stark and jagged tonal columns — with no apologies made for how hard it all swings.

“Belgrade” features Waldrop on vibes in another classy arrangement by Jack Cooper. The delicate and pensive melody bears qualities similar to Pat Metheny. The tonal colors throughout, which include touches of guitar, soprano sax, and vibes, are the perfect seasoning for this enchanting piece. Special mention goes to the fabulous soprano saxophone solo by Travis Ranney, a finely modulated expression of tone and melodic craftsmanship.

Perhaps the most effervescent piece on the recording, “Vasconcelos,” an Afro-Brazillian confection, delights from start to finish. A lovely Waldrop composition, the tune features a beautiful array of percussion parts, from hand drums, berimbau, cuica to bells, shakers and even a birdcall or two –all played with exquisite taste by Brad Dutz. John Hansen and Scott Steed enrich this Brazillian atmosphere with solos on piano and bass; Larry Panella contributes the lush flute tones.

Funk-drenched and unabashedly hip, “Doppler Effect” nods to the irrepressible recordings of the Brecker Brothers during the mid-70s, exemplified by popular tunes such as “Rocks” and “Some Skunk Funk.” Composed by Gerald Stockton, the arrangement, in all its mercurial charm is fiendishly difficult to play, with fast chromatic lines extending into the upper register for the brass. Still, with multi-tracking for added security, the band performs the most demonic passages with a level of perfection that must be heard to be believed, a truly herculean effort. Scott Whitfield, one of the ringers in the ensemble and a commanding musical presence, takes the blistering trombone solo in the Latin section.

“Still Life” concludes the recording with another small ensemble venture, featuring Waldrop back on vibes. This agreeable amalgam of small group pieces opposite the large ensemble arrangements works extraordinarily well. There’s a balance achieved, both emotional and intellectual, where each track seems perfectly tempered to reward the listener with an aural experience that’s fulfilling and memorable. What more could one ask from a great recording? sax-icon

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Samples from Origin Suite:



Track Listing for Origin Suite:

  1. Origin Suite
  2. Through the Mist
  3. Sheath and Sword
  4. Ivana
  5. Mouzon
  6. Doo Dat Tang
  7. Belgrade
  8. Vasconcelos
  9. Doppler Effect
  10. Still Life

Musicians:

Saxophones: Will Campbell (Lead), Tim Ishii, Mario Cruz, Chris McGuire, Paul Baker

Trumpets: Keith Jourdan (Lead), David Spencer, Larry Spencer, Mike Steinel

Trombones: Anthony Williams (Lead), Tony Baker, Greg Waits, John Wasson

Piano: /Organ: Steve Snyder
Guitar: Jimi Tunnel (1-3); Noel Johnstone (5,6,8)
Bass: Jeff Plant (elec. 1-3); Lynn Seaton (acou. 5, 6, 8)
Drums/Vibraphone: Michael Waldrop
Percussion: Jose Rossy

Additional Musicians
Travis Ranney – saxophones (9,11)
Richard Cole – saxophones (9,11)
Stephan Friel, saxophones (11)
Dan Marcus – trombones (9)
Brad Allison – trumpets (9)
Larry Panella – flutes (10)
Noel Johnstone – guitar (5,6,12)
Brian Monroney – guitar (9,11)
Barry Aiken – keyboards (11)
Rick White, electric bass (11)
Scott Steed – bass (9,10)
Scott Kinsey – keyboards (7)
Wayne Peet – piano (12)
John Hansen – piano (4,9,10)
Brad Dutz – percussion (4,9,10,12)

Holmes – Jeff Benedict Big Big Band

Jeff Benedict Big Big Band
Jeff Benedict Big Big Band

By DAVE GREGG

Jeff Benedict, a consummate musician in both the jazz and classical worlds,  had always wanted to do his own big band jazz album. With a little help from his friends — who coincidentally were all superb musicians — he assembled an ensemble that’s equipollent with some of the best big bands in the country. Thus, the Jeff Benedict Big Big Band was born.

You’ll find no prolonged bouts of artistic navel gazing on this cd. This is music that’s meant to entertain. The soloists are impressive throughout and they improvise with a searing inventiveness. The band, a literal paragon of swing, is a powerhouse of top players that perform with precision and authority. But don’t let that intimidate you. Listening to this band is a true pleasure.

With selections from a diverse repertoire that’s equally facile with standards from the American songbook to pop hits by Sting, you could say that the Jeff Benedict Big Big Band offers a little something for everyone here.

The recording starts off with Come On In, a minor blues composed and arranged by David Caffey, a longtime jazz educator and arranger. The work plays around with a pesky three-note motif that’s developed throughout the piece, almost obsessively at times, till the rousing conclusion. The chart swings hard and the band makes the unequivocal argument that this is an ensemble worthy of your attention. Jeff Benedict, a fluent improviser and accomplished lead alto player, takes the first solo. Charlie Richard follows, offering his own jazz musings on the baritone sax.

Bitter Jug is a sprightly reworking of The Jitterbug Waltz, arranged by trombonist Paul McKee, of Woody Herman fame. A straight-ahead swinger, the chart features a lively sax soli, performed with spunk and polish by a superb saxophone section that phrases so well together you might think they share the same lung. Matt Harris takes the first solo, contributing his bop-inspired moxie to the piano. He’s followed by McKee, a born lyricist on the trombone that dazzles with his slide-of-hand, and who’s the heir-apparent to former slide masters like Carl Fontana and Frank Rosolino.

Seven Days, the iconic hit by Sting in 5/4 time (an unusual meter for pop songs), gets the jazz treatment here in an arrangement by Benedict. The arrangement itself doesn’t break new ground, however, almost coming across as a transcription of the original — albeit spiced with jazz voicings and the instrumental colors of the big band. The concept works, though, and the solos  by Dave Askren on guitar and Jeff Ellwood on tenor offer probing ruminations on the material.

Holmes, an original by Benedict and dedicated to his late father,  is a fun and entertaining romp, a jaunty derivative of the blues — with attitude — that turns the familiar twelve-bar progression on its head. Starting with a New Orleans second-line style, the bass line suddenly veers unexpectedly to the tritone and you discover that you’re no longer in Kansas anymore — at least harmonically speaking — and if you are, Stravinsky has moved in next door as your new neighbor.  The work highlights Jeff Benedict’s musical sense of humor, amply evident throughout the entire recording. Solo turns are taken by Benedict on alto, Charlie Richard on bari, Tom Tallman on trumpet, and Paul McKee on trombone — all contributing their own blues-drenched flights of imagination.

Easy Living, a standard from the American songbook, features Benedict on alto, in an arrangement of his that makes use of a wide dynamic range. Of special note, listen for the sassy bass trombone work of Gerry Amoury and the impassioned wail of the sax section during the bridge. Benedict’s playing runs an emotional scale throughout that’s both sensitive and torchy, where his tender exchanges on alto are often contrasted moments later by a stunning wall of sound from the ensemble. The stirring climax of his solo is reached during a progression of accented quarter notes from the band, gradually increasing in intensity as he reaches a fever pitch of improvisational fury, an effect reminiscent of Bob Brookmeyer’s brilliant arrangement of Skylark. Paul McKee occasionally alternates with the melody on trombone.

Jaco, a composition by the great Pat Metheny,  begins with an intricate rhythmic figure from the saxes that at first hearing sounds like one of his multi-meter excursions, but it’s really just 4/4 time. Arranged by Benedict, Jeff continues the work started by Bob Curnow, who arranged a number of Metheny’s songs for big band. Ken Foerch leads off with a funky tenor solo and Charlie Richard sculpts his solo on baritone sax with a warm and woody tone, as if his horn had been carved from the trunk of a great tree. Benedict closes out with a soulful romp on the soprano sax.

Young and Fine is a composition written by Joe Zawinul for the fusion group, Weather Report. Another arrangement by Benedict, the sheer exuberance of the song, practically gushing with its own life force, almost overrides further treatment by an arranger, but Benedict adapts the work well to a larger ensemble. The latin groove  adds an effusive quality to Zawinul’s sunny classic that will make you smile from ear to ear. Benedict  and Matt Harris, on alto and piano , add further illumination with tandem solos.

Benedict’s rendition of Caravan, the Duke Ellington favorite, is a high-octane ride that drives relentlessly forward with a take-no-prisoners attitude that builds to an exciting climax. Jeff Ellwood, a player that defies cliché as if his life depended on it, seems relentlessly resourceful at finding new ways to grab the shirt collars of his listeners. In his solo on Caravan, after depleting his talent for conjuring wildly inventive melodic lines, he explodes in the altissimo with the guttural evocation of a primal scream, forging astonishingly new tonal possibilities from that smoldering smithy he calls a tenor saxophone.

Delta City Blues, composed and recorded by tenor sax legend Michael Brecker, is again arranged by Benedict. Brecker originally played the punchy, angular lines in the work with a spirit that reflected the unstoppable march of modernism — you could almost envision the steel girders of skyscrapers dramatically jutting into the air with each rhythmic stride. Oddly enough, though, Benedict’s slightly under tempo interpretation somewhat neuters that modernity by removing the sharp corners and orchestrating the formerly jagged melodic strands into cute pirouettes that use the tonal colors of a saxophone quartet, the soprano daintily riding on top. It’s a startling juxtaposition if you’re comparing the two recordings in your mind as you listen. There’s no fault in the interpretation, as it is humorous and well-played by the ensemble — although you may justifiably find yourself asking at some point, is this a Michael Brecker piece or an etude by Marcel Mule? The tenor sax solo by Jeff Ellwood, a model of what modern jazz playing is all about these days, lends the right amount of incandescence to the work, sometimes screaming from the rooftops with exciting swerves into the upper register, but always with an unwavering hipness in his lines that’s rarely heard by lesser players.

Castle Creek Shuffle is another original by Benedict. A clever twist on jazz anthems like Killer Joe, this rollicking shuffle, irrepressibly upbeat and bouncy, feels good from start to finish, and features solo turns from Benedict on alto, Dave Askren on guitar, and Paul McKee on trombone. Benedict’s playing  sometimes echoes the saucy antics of former altoists like Dick Spencer, sporting ascending chromatic trills in the upper register; and Paul McKee lends his usual authoritative voice to the proceedings with a solo that’s hip, lyrical and unabashedly swinging. The chart ends on an anti-climatic Thad Jones-like flourish, a fitting contrast to all that fun.

Naima, the evergreen classic by John Coltrane, is a memorable Paul McKee arrangement that wraps the former ballad in a sweeping latin groove. The dense voicings in the ensemble hint at Gil Evans influences and create gorgeous harmonic textures, like a gentle breeze stirring delicate strands of hair across the face of a beautiful woman. Jeff Jarvis infuses the work with the sumptuous beauty of his trumpet work, while guitarist Dave Askren lends his own tasteful renderings, and Paul Romaine plays impeccably throughout the work on the drums. With a final chordal ascent from the ensemble, the arrangement draws to a close, a fitting and lovely conclusion to the recording.  sax-icon


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Track Listing for Jeff Benedict Big Big Band 

Come On In (6:29)
Bitter Jug (5:47)
Seven Days (6:10)
Holmes (5:58)
Easy Living (6:14)
Jaco (5:49)
Young and Fine (5:46)
Caravan (5:47)
Delta City Blues (8:06)
Castle Creek Shuffle (7:26)
Naima (6:44)

Musicians

Saxophones: Jeff Benedict, Adrian Williams, Jeff Ellwood, Ken Foerch, Charlie Richard

Trumpets: Steve Hawk (Lead), Jeff Jarvis, Tom Tallman, Frank Rico

Trombones: Paul McKee (Lead), Jacques Voyemant, Otto Granillo, Gerry Amoury (Bass)

Guitar: Dave Askren

Piano: Matt Harris

Bass: Tim Emmons

Drums: Paul Romaine

Producer: Jeff Benedict

Conductor: David Caffey

Engineer: Jim Linahon

Booth Supervisor: Kevin Mayse

Studio Assistant: Jeff Tower

To The Edge – Mark Taylor and the Big Band

Mark Taylor and the Big Band
Mark Taylor and the BigBand

By JACK COOPER (Guest Review)

Writer and arranger Mark Taylor has a long and illustrious career with his associations to the Stan Kenton Orchestra and as longtime staff arranger for the The Army Band (Pershing’s Own) in Washington D.C. Though his professional output has covered everything from small instrumental groups, to string ensembles and special performances for national T.V. shows, he has always come back to writing for 17 piece big band. The latter relationship in the U.S. capital has allowed Taylor close contact with the finest jazz players in Washington D.C. and the special armed services big bands therein. Taylor is widely published and well-respected amongst his composing and arranging peers dating back to his time at North Texas State University. His newest release (third with his own group), “To The Edge,” is a very polished big band recording. Many things catch the ear; the band is tight, energetic and extremely musical. The level of Taylor’s writing and the playing is at a very high level, as good as one would hear with first call studio musicians in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, London, Berlin…or Washington D.C.

“Samba Ti Kaye” is one of Taylor’s originals and does a fine job introducing this latest recording and the band. Alto player Andy Alexrod shows us some great playing reminiscent of the legendary Sonny Criss while Graham Breedlove delivers a gorgeous flugelhorn solo. The shout chorus of the chart is typical of Taylor; it does superb job showing off the band.

Taylor’s interpretation of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is swinging and gazes at this Elton John signature tune from a totally different angle. Ted Baker (tenor sax) and Jay Gibble (trombone) deliver fine solos. The biggest challenge Taylor had to face here was creating effective solo chord changes for these players; he completes the task with great expertise. Todd Harrison’s “a la Basie ‘Cute’” soloing is a very nice addition Taylor has allowed for inside the arrangement.

‘Blue Monk’ is a wonderful treatment of Monk’s original material first grooving in a Ragin’ Cajun style giving way to straight ahead blues the likes of which Clark Terry would be proud. Great solos from Matt Neiss and Graham Breedlove and lots of meat on the bone for Todd Harrison’s drums…and the band eats it up!

The ballad “Love Matters the Most” is gorgeous, John DeSalme is featured on tenor sax. Taylor’s use of mutes and woodwinds is one of his signatures and everything is musically well-balanced. What catches the ear on the chart is it’s not overwritten; another MT signature, very tasteful writing. One imagines Taylor’s feature as a precisely cut diamond in a beautiful setting for a ring; everything is in balance and so pleasing to the ear.

Marty Neu’s wonderful alto sax playing is the focus throughout Taylor’s interpretation of Jerome Kern’s classic “All the Things You Are.” An additional bass solo is inserted by Paul Henry to break up the action a bit; nothing gets lost in the momentum of the chart. Though this chart is very reminiscent of classic alto features from the Kenton orchestra for players such as Gabe Baltazer, John Park, or Quinn Davis, Mark Taylor embeds his arranging signature in this one with some very smart, swinging writing.

Wayne Shorter’s “Children of the Night” is given a ‘fast ball down the middle’ treatment by Taylor. The tune is allowed to do what it does best and certainly Mark is fully aware of the hard-bop tradition and language honored here. Grant Langford (tenor) and Craig Fraedrich (trumpet) do a fine job on the solos and Todd Harrison sounds great on the drum chair: he supports the band while displaying some fine solo fills.

Singer Delores King Williams is featured on Taylor’s velvety rendering of “My Funny Valentine.” The only critical thought one might have of Mark’s choices (for the CD) is to have a couple of more vocal charts on the recording. He is one of the finest vocal arrangers in the profession and it would have been nice to hear more. Tom Williams (flugelhorn) delivers a fine solo on the ballad.

“To the Edge” (title track) is a wonderful combination of Taylor’s hard driving, inverting and re-inverting of the augmented and diminished scales. By no means pedantic, a very melodic way of going about it, as Taylor so often does. What a great tune and the orchestration is fantastic. Typical of Taylor…this swings hard and the band gets lots of material to dig into.

Over the years we have heard numerous charts of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” to include the most prominent done for the Woody Herman big band in the 1970s. Easily one of the strongest of the batch, Taylor’s chart does a fine job of keeping the focus in the center of the target. The tune already has a signature harmonic and melodic pattern we expect. Taylor adeptly integrates material from Coltrane’s famous solo lines into the sax soli, but making it his own. Jim McFalls (trombone) and Ted Baker nail the challenging chord changes and Todd Harrison gives some great featured drumming to bring it home.

One of the first charts many jazz bands got to know Taylor by is “Love Beams” from his time in college at North Texas State University (noted as a favorite tune of his wife Evie). This is truly the best recording of the chart to date (which there are several) and does a very nice job of updating his writing , showing how timeless the music is. Longtime D.C. musician Jim Roberts is featured on acoustic guitar and does a fine job on the solo chair.

Another of Wayne Shorter’s tunes is interpreted by Taylor: “One By One.” Again the band sounds great and Mark’s writing is clear while honoring the tradition of Shorter’s hard-bop era tune. Marty Neu (alto sax) and Craig Fraedrich get some solo space and Taylor’s writing is appropriately idiomatic to one of Shorter’s most well-known tunes.

“Another Great Day” is the fifth of Taylor’s originals from the CD. With Andy Axelrod on the alto sax solo this is funk chart is somewhat reminiscent of writing for the 1970’s Kenton and Ferguson big bands. Nothing fancy, all about the groove and the band does a fine job of interpreting Taylor’s hard hitting composition.

The closer for this session is his original “Bone Talk.” A simple but perfect trombone plunger romp that sounds like Joe Williams or Jimmy Rushing are going to come in any minute with “Everyday I Have the Blues.” Matt Neiss, Jay Gibble and Jen Krupa play greasy blues solos that don’t disappoint and make for some fun listening. Again with Taylor’s wonderful, full band soli writing, the group has a nice handle to grab onto and drive the chart to the end.

The whole album has a nice variety of writing from Mark Taylor and it is hard to imagine the music could have been played any better.  A very enjoyable listen for fans of big band jazz; highly recommended.

Can be purchased from Cdbaby.com

 

Jack Cooper
– Berlin Jazz Orchestra composer/arranger in residence (currently), former staff arranger for the U.S.M.A. Jazz Knights, Director of Jazz Studies – the University of Memphis

Samba Ti Kaye 5:17

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 5:23

Blue Monk 6:27

Love Matters the Most 5:47

All the Things You Are 4:33

Children of the Night 6:12

My Funny Valentine 5:49

To the Edge 8:21

Giant Steps 4:38

Love Beams 4:19

One By One 4:19

Another Great Day 4:29

Bone Talk 5:09

Personnel: Marty Nau, Andy Axelrad, Tedd Baker, Grant Langford, John DeSalme, Dave Brown: saxophones/woodwinds; Brian MacDonald, Liels whitaker, chris Walker, Craig Fraedrich, Graham Breedlove: trumpets/flugelhorns; Matt Neiss, Jim McFalls, Jay Gibble, Jen Krupa, Jeff Cortazzo: trombones; Tony Nalker; piano; Jim Roberts: guitar; Paul Henry: bass; Todd Harrison: drums; Special guests: Delores King Williams: vocals; Tom Williams: flugelhorn.

Mark Wade Trio – Event Horizon

Mark Wade Trio
Mark Wade Trio

By DAVE GREGG

Combining the best ingredients of what makes a jazz trio great, Event Horizon, the debut recording of the Mark Wade Trio, is an event worthy of considerable praise and recognition. The creative alchemy this group melds in the nine compositions on the CD not only strengthens the history of the jazz trio but also reinvigorates this illustrious instrumentation with the ever enduring spirit of invention.

With Mark Wade on bass, Tim Harrison on piano, and Scott Neumann on drums (all seasoned musicians that listen with a capital L) the compelling components of the jazz trio — the democratic interplay of parts, the balance of shared sonic space, the breathtaking exchange of musical dialogue — come into full realization. Rare do you find a trio of musicians so capable of saying something individually yet committed to working as a group to support a singular idea. While the Mark Wade Trio certainly honors the work of esteemed trios from the past, they have undoubtedly added to the ongoing conversation with a unique voice of their own.

Mark Wade, leader of the trio and composer of eight original compositions on the CD,  plays the acoustic bass with a deep, fervent resonance that approaches ecstasy. Using vibrato and a myriad of soulful inflections, Wade creates a tone that echoes the best of Paul Chambers or Scott LaFaro, yet there’s an inherent wisdom in the sound, as if the wood from the bass were cut from a lone Cypress tree that stood sentinel for hundreds of years on a wind-swept rocky coast.

The piano artistry of Tim Harrison delights at almost every turn of phrase, crafting rich melodic lines in his solos that pull you along with a magisterial ability to both swing and surprise. His harmonic inventiveness is of equal richness, and the tonal pleasures of his touch on the keyboard, exquisitely delicate in the ballads and excitedly commanding in the stronger passages, unveils a musician of unusual sophistication and talent.

Scott Neumann, on drums, is easily summarized in one word: taste. At all junctures his playing supports the organic conception of the trio: three distinct voices working together as one. Neumann lends an equally inventive voice to the group, creating a sonic palette of rhythmic textures and colors, swinging hard when needed yet also capable of brush work that seems as light and graceful as the wings of a butterfly.

The nine compositions on the recording represent an irresistible showcase of jazz styles, and one could view them as Wade’s gallery of artistic canvases, with each selection expanding on the earlier work to greatly enhance the whole.

The first selection, Jump For Joy, a sprightly piece that beautifully exemplifies the joy of making music with a jazz trio, is a sunny waltz in the tradition of Bill Evans.

The haunting Apogee, a stirring ballad that at times echoes the free jazz cry of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman, bustles with the hint of frenetic tempos ahead before settling into more ethereal realms where the time swirls and drifts without apparent meter. The effect creates a timeless quality in the piece, aided by the ambiguity of chromatically descending chords and Wade’s own emotive bass playing where each pluck of a string seemingly leaks star stuff.

Singsong is not a song at all but a repeated motif posed as a question. One hears parallels to Ive’s The Unanswered Question in the relentless probing of the melodic fragment. The gifted musicianship of Scott Neumann on drums, a natural poet of rhythmic subtlety, features prominently here.

Valley and Stream, a work of pensive beauty that could pass as a film score for an art house narrative, approaches the sublime in exquisite passages from Wade and Harrison. The poignant character of the melody, quiet yet searching, resonates long after the music has ended.

If I Only Had a Brain, charming from start to finish, is framed by a dominant seventh chord deliciously battered with the distinctive flavors of the half-diminished scale. Set in 5/4, the trio swings so convincingly throughout that you may wonder if the song was originally written in the quintuple meter. Following a playful exchange of solos by the members of the trio, the arrangement ends on a series of rapidly shifting modulations that surprise and delight.

In conclusion, although the history of the jazz trio remains dominated by imaginative minds like Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton, Chick Corea and others, the Mark Wade Trio has left an indelible mark in that timeline with a recording that boasts strong compositions, memorable solos, and three remarkable musicians that met the stringent demands of what it takes to lead a jazz trio to greatness.

To download this recording, visit Amazon.

 

 

Track Listing:

  1. Jump For Joy
  2. The Prisoner
  3. Apogee
  4. Singsong
  5. Tossed
  6. Valley and Stream
  7. Twist in the Wind
  8. Cold Spring
  9. If I Only Had a Brain

Musicians:

Tim Harrison – Piano
Mark Wade – Bass
Scott Neumann – Drums

 

Time Within Itself – Michael Waldrop Big Band

Michael Waldrop Big Band
Michael Waldrop Big Band

By DAVE GREGG

Time Within Itself, Michael Waldrop’s first big band CD, is a joyous, rip-roaring ride that charts a rollicking course through diverse musical styles, ranging from jazz fusion to the very best of big band jazz.

At the helm on drums, Waldrop is the indomitable anchor of the ensemble, a master of kinetic energy who plays both authoritatively and with a rare symmetrical beauty. Creating a rhythmic force that is high-octane yet beautifully measured is a tall order for any drummer, but Waldrop miraculously sustains this virtuosic energy throughout the entire recording. A talented composer, as well, he wrote or co-wrote six of the eight tunes on the project, and beautifully plays the vibraphone on three of the tracks.

Jack Cooper, a gifted musician and composer in his own right, arranged the music on this project, co-writing two of the tracks with Waldrop and a couple originals of his own. His own critically acclaimed CD, Mists: Charles Ives For Jazz Orchestra, now available on Planet Arts, was released last year. Cooper’s dazzling arrangements on this session, brimming with originality and inventiveness, unquestionably establishes him as a writer of big band jazz destined to make a mark.

In El Vino, the first track on the CD, Waldrop pays tribute to the great jazz drummer, Elvin Jones. Echoes of early Coltrane permeate this medium groove, an extended blues form that revives the hard bop style once celebrated in the Blue Note recordings from the 60s. The tenor sax soloist, Larry Panella, who earlier in his career performed with Woody Herman and The Phil Collins Band, almost sets the studio on fire with his scorching tone, torrid runs, and blazing vaults into the altissimo.

Tunnell Vision, a standout on the session by its sheer energy alone, features the impassioned electric guitar and wordless vocals of Jimi Tunnell, a former member of the group, Steps Ahead.  When Tunnell’s epic incantations roar in your ears for the first time, bigger than life and almost operatic in intensity, you immediately realize this is not your typical big band recording. Tunnell Vision is so infused with infectious energy that at some point the music transcends the boundaries of structure and form and becomes nothing but pure energy. Cooper’s electrifying arrangement helps stem the frenetic demands of this fusion tune, adding sock and sizzle to the ensemble when needed, with the proceedings relentlessly driven home by the transcendent drum work of Michael Waldrop.

In Time Within Itself, the title cut, an elegant and diaphanous waltz that alludes to the best of Bill Evans, the music seems to glide along serene waters on a summer afternoon. The breezy, easy-going quality of the piece never ceases to delight, and the immaculate piano artistry of Steve Snyder just adds to the sunny character of this affable work. The alto sax solo, light and winsome, comes from the tasteful musings of Will Campbell, who leads the saxes in this session. Composed by Waldrop, the tune has the makings of a future jazz standard and will probably be widely recorded by other musicians. In the ingenious ways that have become a hallmark of his writing, Cooper’s arrangement exquisitely builds on the melodic material, snatching beautiful fragments from the song as if he’s catching butterflies in a net.

Munich Musings, a samba-like, straight eighth note groove with its lilting melody and yearning chord progression, unfolds amidst jagged rhythmic figures that intermittently disrupt the flowing line like modern skyscrapers translated into sound — but all to good effect. The invigorating percussion of Jose Rossy, of Weather Report fame, is on full display here, and trombonist Greg Waits and Mike Steinel on trumpet both craft memorable solos.

Inner Truth highlights the warm vibraphone playing of Waldrop, in a lovely slower piece that also features sensitive turns by Larry Panella on flute and Mike Steinel on flugelhorn. Cooper’s deceptively simple arrangement enchants with a lushly voiced introduction by the ensemble, as soft and delicate as the skin of a newborn. Written by Waldrop, this charming work offers a gentle reprieve before the coming storm of the remaining tracks ahead.

In Vistas, another effusive outpouring that encapsulates the best of fusion and contemporary jazz, Jimi Tunnell returns to continue his soulful dialogue. Composed by Jack Cooper, this charismatic work begins with a sprightly a cappella introduction by the ensemble, followed by the spirited main theme played by Tunnell that’s doubled an octave above by the ethereal vocal stylings of Susan Dudley. Larry Panella plays the commanding tenor sax solo that leads to the final climactic moments. A work reminiscent of Weather Report or The Brecker Brothers, Vistas is one of Cooper’s most emotionally expansive outings, with the ecstatic ascending line of the ending ultimately reaching to heights unknown. Some purists may find the forays into jazz fusion objectionable, but to his credit, Cooper brings his uncompromising standards to all styles of music, creating sophisticated compositions that are both intellectually and emotionally sound — a criteria for all great music.

The intriguing Her Moon Rises East, another composition by Cooper that features Tunnell, begins with a rhythmic figure reminiscent of Golson’s Blues March, before segueing into the more contemporary material in three-quarter time. At first written for a failed ballet, the work has a through-composed feel, allowing for evocative passages in the ensemble writing by Cooper that explores textures and colors not often associated with the big band.

Twisted Barb, a straightforward uptempo swing tune written to feature the drum work of Waldrop, concludes the recording. Cooper’s inventiveness with the linear line comes to the forefront here, as he weaves a brilliant mosaic of contrapuntal passages like a crazy quilter that’s traded in his sewing needles for an armful of musical scales. Later, in a series of solo passages between the drums and the band, Waldrop demonstrates true finesse, with masterful playing that is muscular and powerful yet capable of subtle touches that suggest soft drops of rain pelting panes of glass. In short, the incredible artistry of Waldrop’s performance — on this track and throughout the rest of the CD — is nothing short of remarkable.

Remarkable is also a fitting summation for the creative collaboration between Michael Waldrop and Jack Cooper, whose formidable talents breathed life into the music on this project. With the expiration date on big band recordings growing closer — according to some naysayers — Waldrop’s Time Within Itself offers a welcome extension, reinvigorating the genre with a unique juxtaposition of musical styles that blends the best of the present with the best of the past. In the end, though, the simple joy of creating remarkable music overrides everything else, and that is what you find in abundance on this recording — remarkable music.  sax-icon

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Track Listing:

  1. El Vino
  2. Tunnell Vision
  3. Time Within Itself
  4. Munich Musings
  5. Inner Truth
  6. Vistas
  7. Her Moon Rises East
  8. Twisted Barb

Musicians:

Saxophones
Will Campbell (Lead) – alto, soprano, clarinet, flute
Tim Ishii – alto, clarinet, flute
Larry Panella – tenor, soprano, clarinet, flute
Chris McGuire – tenor, clarinet
Paul Baker – baritone, bass clarinet

Trumpets
Keith Jourdan (Lead)
Dave Spencer
Larry Spencer
Mike Steinel

Trombones
Anthony Williams (Lead)
Tony Baker
Greg Waits
John Wasson – bass trombone

Rhythm
Chris Derose-Chiffolo – guitar (1,3,4,5,8)
Carl Hillman – bass
Steve Snyder – piano
Michael Waldrop – drums, vibraphone

Additional Musicians
Jose Rossy – percussion (2,4,5,6,7)
Chad McLoughlin – additional guitar (3)
Sandra Dudley – vocals (6,7)

Guest Soloist
Jimi Tunnell (electric guitar)

Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra

Mists: Charles Ives For Jazz Orchestra
Mists: Charles Ives For Jazz Orchestra

I always suspected that Charles Ives had the makings of a great jazz composer. Now Jack Cooper has shown just how jazzy Ives can get. This is a fun, exciting recording and one of the most creative big band projects of the year.”

— Ted Gioia,  author of The History of Jazz

By DAVE GREGG

Every so often one of those self-appointed apostles of cultural cynicism will exploit their place on a national journal to reignite the tired yet familiar debate — that jazz is dead. The house of jazz, they’ll rant, is a dilapidated relic with crumbling foundations, shuttered windows, and yellowed newspapers strewn across dust-laden floors. A lamentable example, recently published in the normally hallowed pages of The New Yorker, featured a humorless parody of jazz legend, Sonny Rollins.

While these flagrant floggings of America’s greatest art form are predictable grumblings from today’s attention-deficit-driven society, they are easily countered by the continued release of new and seminal jazz recordings each year.

One such recording is —Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra— a new release of eight stunning works for big band, beautifully arranged by Jack Cooper, a much sought-after composer and arranger in the jazz world.

In a recording that comprises fifty-five minutes of compelling American music, Cooper adds the full-throated roar of the big band to the strange yet captivating sounds of the modernist composer, Charles Ives. The engaging contrast of styles evokes images of the dark, smokey confines of the jazz club with the mist-shrouded banks of Ives’ fabled Housatonic, in eight aptly drawn musical portraits of Americana.

Cooper’s eminence looms large in these ingenious transformations of Ives’ songs, a unique coalescence of musical styles that never feel forced together. Credit Cooper’s creative alchemy here if you conclude after hearing the recording that Ives surely cut his compositional teeth in the jazz haunted speakeasies of Manhattan’s 52nd street.

Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra — The Music

jack cooper - mists: charles ives
Jack Cooper recording Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra

In Mists, the title track, Cooper transforms Ives’ elegiac setting of ‘gray skies’ and haunting vistas of ‘hill and dale’ into an uptempo jaunt through the ambiguous terrain of the whole-tone scale, with an obvious nod to Dee Barton, of Stan Kenton fame. In an intensely swinging diatribe, Cooper pounds relentless successions of altered dominant seventh chords, powerfully punctuated by exciting shouts from the brass and fiery solos played by Terell Stafford, Ivan Renta, and Luis Bonilla.

Terell Stafford, a guest soloist featured on the title track and the concluding cut, The Cage, joins an impressive roster of soloists on the album, many of them members of the esteemed Village Vanguard Orchestra. With a charismatic sound and an impeccable sense of swing, Stafford ignites the music with fingers of lightning that scorch the air. His jazz is lyrical, hard-driving, and red-hot.

In The Last Reader, Cooper adopts one of Ives’ favorite traditions: pitting two ensembles in musical opposition. The dense cluster of harmonies lends an ethereal effect akin to light scattered in swirls of mist — an undeniable Ivesian touch. Following the airy dissonance of the introduction, Cooper dresses the main theme in a more contemporary setting, with tenor and guitar in fusion-flavored unison, succeeded by heartfelt solos played by Alex Wintz and Jim Seeley. The work culminates in an extended climax, orchestrated with a breathtaking surge of emotion from the ensemble that unveils Jack’s most gorgeous writing.

At The River, a laid-back medium swing, brims with inventiveness. Cooper ingeniously uses simple background figures behind the familiar hymn like tonal bits of clay that mold and develop the work into something well beyond the original intentions of the church-goer — but to great effect for the jazz listener. Luis Bonilla and Chris Karlic are featured on the trombone and baritone sax.

The Cage, the final selection among the eight arrangements, is Cooper’s magnum opus. Bolstered by impassioned solos by Billy Drews, Peter Brainin, and Terell Stafford, this arresting work — on the surface at least — is just a 24 measure minor blues. Never satisfied with the banal, however, Cooper elevates the piece into a pinnacle of artistic expression, crafting a complex knit of musical passages that range from the merely atmospheric to intricate contrapuntal lines that ingeniously contrast and intertwine in a tour de force of wildly inventive jazz composition.

Special mention must also go to the piano prowess of Randy Ingram, the rhythmic fervor of Vince Cherico, and the impressive soloists not mentioned earlier: Scott Wendholt, Chris Karlic, John Mosca, Rey David Alejandre, and Andrew Halchak.

On final analysis, Mists: Charles Ives For Jazz Orchestra showcases a marvelous band, stellar soloists, and a level of arranging rich with heritage yet honed with an ear toward things to come. Cultural prophets may continue to proclaim that jazz is dead, that the tradition has gone stale , that the music isn’t cool anymore (as one reporter blithely stated)but Jack Cooper settles that argument, brilliantly and decisively, with this important new recording.   sax-icon

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For a more in-depth analysis of Jack’s work with Ives, read Scott Healy’s jazz composition blog.


 

Track listing for Mists: Charles Ives For Jazz Orchestra:

  1. Mists
  2. The Last Reader
  3. The Children’s Hour
  4. Tom Sails Away
  5. The Camp Meeting
  6. Watchman!
  7. At The River
  8. The Cage

Musicians:

Saxophones
Alto – Billy Drews (Lead)
Alto – Andrew Halchak
Tenor – Ivan Renta
Tenor – Peter Brainin
Baritone – Chris Karlic

Trumpets
Nick Marchionne (Lead)
John Walsh
Jim Seeley
Scott Wendholt

Guest Soloist
Terell Stafford (trumpet)

Trombones
John Mosca (Lead)
Luis Bonilla
Rey David Alejandre
Frank Cohen (bass , all except #3)
Douglas Purviance (bass #3, #8)

Rhythm
Piano – Randy Ingram
Guitar – Alex Wintz
Bass – Andy McKee
Drums & Percussion – Vince Cherico