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John McNeil's Backbone

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Like many trumpeters, John McNeil has a unique brand above his upper lip where flesh meets metal. It looks like a setting sun, and was visible from up close, as he removed his instrument from his mouth, rose steadily from his stool, and grasped the microphone. “This is the part of any jazz gig where the band plays a blues and one of us talks over it. That's how you know it's jazz...I think," said McNeil, 62, to the audience spread out on the lawn before the gothic Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford. McNeil's voice was deep ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John McNeil and Bill McHenry: Chill Morn He Climb Jenny

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Navigating the wide avenue of American Song can be boring, because the same charts appear on album after album; but when musicians either pick little-known charts of the celebrated composers of the American Songbook, or add little-known composers to that musical tome, things get quirky, but utterly refreshing. This is exactly the case in point regarding Chill Morn He Climb Jenny, the anagrammatic title that would otherwise spell the names of thois quirky duo--trumpeter John McNeil and tenor saxophonist, Bill McHenry--together with bassist Joe Martin and drummer, Jochen Rueckert. Moreover, for this date the artists have also sought to feature ...

INTERVIEWS

John McNeil: More Than Just Notes, Man

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Trumpeter John McNeil arrived in New York in the early 1970s and has played with such luminaries as Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Horace Silver and Gerry Mulligan. He has led his own bands since 1980 and his recordings have garnered worldwide critical acclaim. In addition to his touring schedule, McNeil co-leads a quartet with saxophonist Bill McHenry every Sunday night at Biscuit BBQ (formerly Night and Day) in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. With his eyes frequently brimming with mischief, the quick-witted, good-humored and wonderfully profane composer, producer and author sat down to share his thoughts on his involvement ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John McNeil: East Coast Cool

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The best jazz is always at least a bit subversive--it does the unexpected, perhaps even setting the listener up for something, only to slap him about it later. Jazz can be the epitome of unpredictability and subversion when musicians play around the melody or forego it altogether, when they fracture the harmony and stretch it to its limits, or when they purposefully thwart a rhythmic pattern. This is the jazz you remember, the albums that get played over and over, the music about which you say, “Listen to this...." John McNeil's East Coast Cool is one of ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John McNeil: East Coast Cool

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Trumpeter/composer John McNeil is after a “third stream of sorts with East Coast Cool. His avowed purpose is to meld the cool jazz feel of the Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker quartet (which featured baritone sax and trumpet, but no piano) with the more decentralized approach and edge of modern free jazz. While it's impossible to know how the masters of yesterday might have approached this challenge, McNeil (who played with Mulligan and arranged for his tribute band) submits a pretty convincing model here. Comprised mostly of McNeil originals, East Coast Cool is overall a well-balanced album. There are ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John McNeil: East Coast Cool

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John McNeil may have stumbled onto something worthwhile here. Of late, the trumpeter/leader/composer has been recording for OmniTone, a Brooklyn-based label which specializes in the edgy music that one might encounter in many of New York's downtown jazz clubs. McNeil goes back some time and has been part of the jazz scene there since the 1970s, also having worked with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and Horace Silver's quintet. I especially liked his dates as a leader on the Steeplechase label.

After the death of Gerry Mulligan, McNeil was asked to write for a Mulligan tribute band. His ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John McNeil: East Coast Cool

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On East Coast Cool, trumpeter John McNeil set out to reinterpret the classic West Coast cool jazz sound of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker's piano-less quartets. McNeil's career stretches back almost three decades, playing alongside Horace Silver, Slide Hampton, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, as well as Mulligan himself. As a member of Gerry Mulligan's group in the 1980s, McNeil comes at this material with both knowledgeable authority and respectful appreciation. What he does with it, however, is the sort of thing his former boss wouldn't have dreamed of.

While these tunes are thematically inspired by the ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John McNeil: East Coast Cool

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The music called “West Coast Cool" was well-represented by the mid-fifties Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker Quartet, with Mulligan on the baritone saxophone and Baker on trumpet, backed by bass and drums. Working without a chording instrument--piano or guitar--was quite innovative at the time. The sound, in contrast to the sharper-edged bop of the day, had a loose, fluid feeling, a “cool" flow.Trumpeter John McNeil's resume includes stints with the Horace Silver Quintet and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, as well as work with Mulligan himself. McNeil was hired to write arrangements for a Mulligan truibute band after the baritone ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John McNeil: East Coast Cool

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Celebrating the piano-less quartet sound that Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker brought us over 40 years ago, trumpeter John McNeil reflects on their individual spirit with a free jazz interpretation of his own. As he applies Mulligan's arranging principles to free music, his quartet introduces a unique sound that remains both cool and intense. McNeil, 57, spent some time working with Mulligan, and he was asked to write arrangements for a Gerry Mulligan tribute band after the baritone saxophonist passed away. That project inspired this one.

McNeil's trumpet has a shadowy tone that he's employed on numerous free ...

INTERVIEWS

Meet John McNeil

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One-of-a-kind trumpeter John McNeil is not as well-known as he might be, but things are looking up for him lately after putting out a couple of varied, personal, and idea-filled CD's. The concept for the second of these, Sleep Won't Come, came out of his long-time battle with insomnia and the sense of frustration that hits him when he sees the sun come up. Of course I interviewed him at 3 A.M. after he'd played a gig at Cornelia Street Cafe with his quintet, Insomnia.Cornelia Street Café performanceIt was great, a full house for both sets. ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John McNeil: Sleep Won't Come

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In this varied set led by trumpeter John McNeil, ostensibly an homage to his own difficulties with insomnia, the term “chamber jazz" is given a slightly different twist--far from the light counterpoint of the MJQ, passages of intense freedom and effortless propulsion mark the improvisations of McNeil, pianist Jeff Jenkins and bassist Kent McLagan. Like Dave Douglas, McNeil has worked extensively with Horace Silver, and not unlike Douglas, he has a penchant for odd instrumentation (viola, flute and baritone commingle on one recording), more than a taste of freedom and a strong tinge of classicism in his phrasing. ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John McNeil: Sleep Won't Come

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John McNeil is a veteran trumpeter and composer who has been part of the New York scene since the late 1970s. He was a member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and the Horace Silver Quintet and has led his own groups. I have two of his Steeplechase albums in my own collection, and although '03's This Way Out received good reviews, I haven't heard any of his work in some time.

The theme of this album is insomnia and McNeil's ability to deal with it. The first half of the session is equally divided between atmospheric ballads ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John McNeil: Sleep Won't Come

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Anyone who has suffered from a bout of insomnia knows what trumpeter John McNeil is talking about with Sleep Won't Come. First there are the mental gymnastics as you try to settle your mind down, but instead you find yourself plagued with a barrage of ideas that just won't quit. Then you try the relaxation devices: visualization and deep breathing. Then you look at the clock, realizing that it's already 4:00 AM, and even if you do manage to get some sleep, you'll only get three hours of it and no matter what happens, you're going to be exhausted at ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John McNeil: This Way Out

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A veteran musician with more than 35 years of experience, trumpeter John McNeil has played in a variety of settings including Horace Silver's quintet and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. His latest effort, This Way Out, finds him fronting a quartet of veteran drummer Joe Smith and two nascent improvisers from Spain: tenor saxophonist Gorka Benitez and bassist Giullia Valle. The quartet navigates McNeil's idiosyncratic tunes adroitly, sounding like they have played together for years. His clean, fluid lines flow confidently throughout the CD, providing a sense of wit and emotion. “Mi Tio," the opener, is ...



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