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Jacob Varmus Septet: Aegean

Dan Bilawsky By

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The existence of this album is firm proof that you never know just when or how a benefactor can come into view. Lifelong jazz fan Apostolos Georgopoulos was passing through upstate New York and he had the opportunity to spend a weekend with Connie Casey and Harold Varmus. Upon hearing some music at their home that piqued his interest, Georgopolous learned that their son, Jacob Varmus, was a jazz trumpeter. Then, after being exposed to Jacob Varmus' All The Things We Still Can Be (Self Produced, 2006), Georgopoulos reached out to him about the possibility of commissioning an album of original material. Here we have the end result.

Each of the pieces presented on Aegean is named for friends or family of Georgopoulous, and each is meant to capture the spirit of those particular individuals. "Phineas" is vibrant and strong, "Elma" sings with a heartland sweep, "Areti" is zany yet endearing, "Lyra" is positive and upbeat in nature, and "Zeina" speaks to peace and beauty. Varmus, in creating these sonic portraits for Georgopoulos, draws a parallel between music and family: each of his pieces emanate different characteristics yet all remain bound by their similarities and shared pedigree.

Varmus' trumpet (and cornet) are central to these stories, but he also makes good use of all of the players at his disposal. Saxophonist Hashem Assadullahi is a well-matched frontline partner for Varmus, both in tone and temperament; rising star guitarist Pete McCann is an adroit player capable of conjuring quietude, delivering cutting tones, or simply blending into the mix; bassist Sam Trapchak anchors the group and adds some harmonic twists from the ground floor; and drummer Christian Coleman knows when to step on it and when to just let it glide. Then there's Leonard Thompson and Broc Hempel, both alternating between keyboard and piano. They skillfully avoid one another and fill out the sound of the band while leaving enough space for the music to breathe.

While this is basically a studio album, Varmus includes several live tracks—"Lyra" and "Elma," which also appear here in studio versions, and the multifaceted "Apostolos & Stelios." The sound quality of those three numbers doesn't measure up to the studio material, but they're important nonetheless. They give the listener a good idea of where this band can go with the music when it takes it out into the world.

Track Listing: Elma; Areti; Phineas; Lily; Nidal; Zeina; Lyra (Live); Apostolos & Stelios (Live); Selena; Elma (Live); Lyra (Studio).

Personnel: Jacob Varmus: trumpet, cornet; Hashem Assadullahi: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone (8)' Pete McCann (guitar); Leonard Thompson: piano (1-3, 5, 6, 8, 10), Keyboard (4, 9); Broc Hempel: piano (4, 8, 9, 11), electric keyboard (1-3, 5, 6, 8, 10); Sam Trapchak: bass; Christian Coleman: drums.

Title: Aegean | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Self Produced


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