Frank Wagner’s Floating Holiday

Floating Holiday Cover artwork

FLOATING HOLIDAY / WAGNER: Floating Holiday. Mirror. Solution. Switch Partners. One for Charlie. Progress Notes. Memory / Marc DiGennaro, pn; Frank Wagner, bs; David Meade, dm/perc / MEII Enterprises (no number)

This somewhat short set (42:38), scheduled for release on April 6, was conceived by bassist-composer-leader Wagner as a tribute to a painting by Magritte of the same name as the album. He wrote most of the pieces, however, while a student at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, although some tunes were written in 2016. The opener begins with a rather loud, quick lick on the piano, but quickly morphs into a slow-moving piece comprised largely of chords. But this Floating Holiday doesn’t always float; it just floats in places, moving along briskly in others. Indeed, once Wagner enters the pace becomes quite manic, moving along in quadruple time as pianist DiGennaro plays mad, sprinkling figures in front of it before launching into a nice bop solo. Eventually Wagner has his own solo, nicely understated, while drummer Meade plays vigorous figures behind him. Quite a trip! We return to the opening lick and chorded figures for the finale.

Mirror begins slowly, with Wagner playing bowed bass and the other two musicians sprinkling notes around him. Wagner continues through the lyrical and fairly long theme this way before turning to plucked bass in the improvised section, with Meade playing cymbal washes and DiGennaro playing a nice counterpoint before moving into his own solo. By contrast, Solution is a fairly straightahead swinger, led by DiGennaro with the other two playing in conventional piano trio fashion. The pianist is really creative on this one, stretching out and obviously enjoying the exposure.

In Switch Partners, Wagner presents us with a neat tune in what used to be called a “walking tempo.” The melodic line here, however, is quirkier, the harmonies somewhat bitonal in places (shades of Monk), and the leader’s bass solo really swings. One for Charlie starts out as a nice ballad, with Wagner playing the attractive melody pizzicato with the piano and drums playing lightly underneath him. This sounds a bit like a C&W tune; I could almost imagine Hank Snow or Charlie Pride singing lyrics to it. (The notes don’t indicate this, but I wondered if it was a tribute to Charlie Haden, the great jazz bassist who actually began his career playing country music as a child.) Wagner’s improvisation, also plucked, is beautifully constructed. DiGennaro’s solo is more florid and outgoing, incorporating rolling triplets and little downward grace notes (also à la country music) here and there.

Progress Notes is a neat jazz waltz that stubbornly switches over to 4/4 on occasion. This one leads off with the piano, first in 3, then in 4 and back again, with Meade following him unerringly (even, at one point, playing backbeats). The leader’s bass eventually becomes more prominent, though not quite soloing on his own. The closer, Memory, starts with Wagner playing somewhat ominous-sounding a cappella figures and tremolos on his bass before moving into a more concrete sort of melody line. Meade follows with an interesting solo of his own, upping the tempo, before Wagner returns, leading into a sort of 6/8 tune with the pianist taking over. The piece becomes generally busier, louder, and slightly faster in tempo with DiGennaro assuming control as it drives towards the finish line.

A very well-rounded and interesting program, then, particularly valuable for the pianist’s contributions to virtually every piece.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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