Roy Nathanson: Subway Moon (2009)
If the expression "renaissance musician" existed in the dictionary, it would probably show a picture of saxophonist Roy Nathanson. The leader of the Jazz Passengers has undergone numerous artistic rebirths throughout his career as a member of The Lounge Lizards, performing with Debbie Harry, Elvis Costello, and Marc Ribot, composing for film and theater, acting, teaching, and even hosting a radio drama. He also holds a degree in poetry, which is put to splendid use on Subway Moon. Inspired by his daily commutes on New York's subway, this release is Nathanson's observations of people, transportation and life, articulated through music and spoken word, like jazz graffiti come to life.
With his band, Sotto Voce, consisting of Jazz Messengers co-leader Curtis Fowlkes (trombone) and Sam Bardfeld (violin), along with other players including Bill Ware (vibes), Napoleon Maddox (human beatbox) and Marcus Rojas (tuba), they extend the street vibe from the previous Sotto Voce (AUM Fidelity Records, 2006), where jazz, hip-hop, and dialogue flourished into an eclectic urban stew.
An appropriate departure call begins with the cover of the O'Jays 1973 smash hit "Love Train," as Nathanson and the band provide some street corner vocal harmonies. The next annex is "Subway Noah" where, unlike Wynton Marsalis' poetic exploits on He and She (Blue Note, 2009), the poetry here is interwoven into the compositions; words that are interspersed with sampled sounds, singing horns, swinging bass walks, human beat boxing, and violin.
Nathanson and Sotto Voce illustrate the experience of the Brooklyn "Q" train. A gorgeous Russian girl's 4 AM cell phone conversation in "Party," the saxophonist's beautiful abstract solo silhouetted against the sounds of rainfall and machines on "Alto Rain," and memories of post 9/11 paranoia on "Orange Alert." The compositions are resplendentMaddox's styling beats dance with Brad Jones' slick bass line on "Party" and Fowlkes' muscular trombone scorches on "Dear Brother," with sampled looped voices, and Nathanson's exquisite prose:
"You've been gone so long
I had to search for you
among the ruins of words
And when I found you
that poem flew off the "Q"
a "You Memorial Paper Airplane"
twisting over the tracks
in the whoosh of fall."
Augmented by a companion book of poetry and short stories of the same title, the final call for Subway Moon ends with "Safer End of Subway Moon," painted with angry outcries, voice harmonies, and Rojas' funky tuba swagger. Like Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's "Take The 'A' Train," Subway Moon is an invitation to new sonic destinations that are well worth the ride.
Track Listing: Love Train; Subway Noah; Party; Alto Rain; Dear Brother; Orange Alert; Two Horn Rain; New Guy to Look at; Stand Clear; Safer End of Subway Moon.
Personnel: Roy Nathanson: vocals, alto and soprano saxophone; Curtis Fowlkes: vocals, trombone; Brad Jones: bass; Bill Ware: vocals, organ, vibraphone; Tim Kiah: vocals, bass; Napoleon Maddox: vocals, human beatbox; Sam Bardfeld: violin; Sean Sondregger: flute, tenor saxophone; Marcus Rojas: tuba; Hugo Dwyer: keyboard sampler; Gabriel Nathanson: trumpet.