HERITAGE / BRODER: Goin’ Up Home. A Wiser Man Than Me.* HAZAMA: Wherever the Road Leads. TRAD., arr. HOLMAN: Jambalaya. TRAD., arr. McNEELY: Cripple Creek. TRAD., arr. TRUESDELL: Wayfaring Stranger.* TRAD., arr. HAZAMA: I’m Not Afraid to Die. TRUESDELL: Brodeo.* HORNE: The People Could Fly / The American Roots Project: Scott Wendholt, tpt/fl-hn; Nick Finzer, tb; Sara Caswell, vln; Owen Broder, a-sax/t-sax; James Shipp, vib/perc; Frank Kimbrough, pn; Jay Anderson, bs; Matt Wilson, dm; *Wendy Gilles, Kate McGarry, Vuyo Sotashe, voc / ArtistShare AS0158
The concept of this album is to combine traditional Americana, i.e. folk music, with jazz. Saxophonist-bandleader Owen Broder chose this format in order to show links between the two types of music, but although I enjoyed it quite a bit I’d still have to say that it’s only because he makes jazz out of the folk music, not necessarily because the two types of music are related. Alan Lomax Jr., former director of folk music at the Smithsonian Institution, spent decades trying to prove that jazz was a form of folk music (including his recording and later writing about Jelly Roll Morton) and failed. Folk music is its own thing, and I do like much of it myself, but it doesn’t swing and it has nothing to do with improvisation.
Happily, the arrangements presented here are lively and inventive. I was really glad to hear an arranger who does his own thing and doesn’t just work from formula. Moreover, some of the original pieces on the album, particularly Miho Hazama’s Wherever This Road Leads, have a somewhat different “feel” to them, and lean much more in the direction of jazz tunes than American folk or blues.
And best of all, Broder allows himself and his talented bandmates to express themselves in a purely jazz sense, which lifts the project up and puts it on a nice level. I was particularly happy to see the name of drummer Matt Wilson among the players here, as his own music has given me some very happy listening over the past couple of years. His enlivening and multi-faceted technique keeps things swinging, even under Sara Caswell’s Turtle Island-like jazz violin chorus in Wherever This Road Leads, which suddenly morphs into a bluegrass hoedown in the final choruses. I was quite surprised by the slow, impressionistic introduction to Jambalaya with its displacement of rhythms and altered chords. Hank Williams would never recognize the piece played this way, and for a few choruses neither did I! Scott Wendholt’s bebop trumpet solo is played over band riffing, after which the group plays a written variant on the original tune, with flatted thirds and other jazz devices tossed in for fun. A different kind of Jambalaya, you bet!
Cripple Creek gets a sort of exotic Middle-Eastern feel to it, resembling some of the things that Rabih Abou-Khalil did so well back in the 1980s and ‘90s. Once again, Broder’s arranging skills are so acute and so original that the music is transformed. What a wonderful reading this is, with a sort of group improv in counterpoint just before Wendholt’s solo. The leader’s tenor sax solo is joyous and inventive, fitting into the structure beautifully. Just listen to Wilson on drums, producing varied backbeats through yet another polyphonic chorus before it suddenly starts to swing out like bluegrass Dixieland, two forms of music that do fit together, if you remember some of those old Jimmie Rodgers records from the late 1920s-early ‘30s, here taken to extremes that Rodgers could never have imagined.
Wayfaring Stranger is taken way down in tempo, beginning with an a cappella out-of-tempo chorus by pianist Frank Kimbrough with polytonal chording, under which Jay Anderson’s bowed bass plays ominously. Kate McGarry’s soft-grained voice sings the lyrics with Wendy Gilles later joining her in close harmony. The writing in this chart for the violin is positively haunting. From a jazz perspective, however, only Anderson’s solo leans in that direction.
I’m Not Afraid to Die, another original by Hazama, again dispenses at first with any allusion to folk music, played in a nice middle tempo with fine writing for the trombone underneath the trumpet lead. Kimbrough’s solo is rich in feeling as well as in his variants, while Wendholt switches to flugelhorn for a beautifully relaxed outing. Ryan Truesdell’s Brodeo begins uptempo in a hoedown sort of beat, again scored with a fine ear for texture before moving into a more relaxed pace. Here, Caswell’s violin is more in a jazz-classical sort of vein, followed by the leader’s ethereal alto and an nice, double-tempo polyphonic chorus over Wilson’s drums.
Alphonso Horne’s original The People Could Fly is based on the Bantu music of South Africa. This is, however, a very varied arrangement, shifting in tempo and beat, with Nick Finzer playing plunger trombone in the manner of Tricky Sam Nanton. Some chanting and hand-clapping liven up the latter portion of the piece. This is a real butt-kicker! Vuyo Sotashe and the two ladies contribute some neat vocal effects, too.
We end our journey with another piece by Broder, A Wiser Man Than Me, based on New Orleans dirge style and featuring a much looser arranging style. The slow beat in 3 put me in mind of some of those Southern gospel-jazz pieces that G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live band used to play as bumper music back in the late 1970s-early ‘80s. And the band here gives it the same kind of “koochy” feel, getting under the skin of the music as it rides nice and easy into the sunset.
This album is a wonderful find and strikingly original in addition to being appealing music.
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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