In case you've been wondering what other bassist besides Dave Holland is making adventuresome big band recordings, wonder no more. Bassist Gregg August has just released his first disc as a leaderand what a honey of a big band achievement it is. His nine original tunes, and ensemble playing showcasing eleven musicians of extraordinary skill and ardor, equal the best of Holland's big band efforts. Quite a praise for a young upstartbut wholly deserved.
August has played for years in a number of Latin jazz units, most recently Ray Vega's. And that comfort with boiling Latin orchestration is clear on the boisterious opening tune, "Sweet Maladie," which sounds like a modern version of a "Machito Meets Mingus" jam. Saxophones and trumpet play a neverously edgy riff over some lovely conga playing by Ray Barretto, still crazily talented after all these years, and nimble bass lines by August.
Mingus is clearly a key influence on August's original tunes. I hear strong traces of "The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady" in August's "Treatments in Darkness"; it features a similar wailing blues with an extraordinary richness of texture supplied by crying horns and singing bass declaring a deep dirge. But August is able to mine the Latin vein that Mingus never took to the max, and his compositions are unlike anyone else's, past or present.
Seven of these nine tunes are thickly arranged pieces for the band, all of whose members shine in their solos. But we are also treated to "Eulogy," a bravura tune for solo bass, and a tantalizingly brief snapshot of a duet for bass and congas between August and Wilson "Chembo" Corniel.
August has established himself as a bassist and composer to track seriously. This disc is a rousing surprise and a timely broadening of the field of Latin jazz.
Personnel: Gregg August: bass; John Bailey: trumpet; Myron Walden: alto saxophone; Donny McCaslin:
tenor saxophone; Frank Wess: tenor saxophone; Alon Yavnai: piano; John Hart: guitar; Eric
McPhearson: drums; Ray Barretto, Wilson Corneil: congas.