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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 a 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)

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)