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Chad McCullough: Dark Wood, Dark Water

Dan McClenaghan By

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Seattle-based trumpeter Chad McCullough has assembled a North-West all-star line-up for his debut release, Dark Wood, Dark Water, mixing it up with Origin Records regulars on an inspired, modern-leaning post-bop outing.

On "Three Pillar," a silky three-horn harmony blows in like a brisk wind in the embrace of the top-tier rhythm team of bassist Jeff Johnson, pianist Bill Anschell and drummer John Bishop. McCullough and his frontline-mates—saxophonists Mark Taylor and Chicagoan Geof Bradfield—blend their sounds in Duke Ellington fashion until the leader takes flight on an inspired solo. McCullough's tone is clean and cool, with a gathering intensity, before he fades down and hands off to the soprano sax with a tart tone enmeshed in the cohesive rhythm. Johnson emerges on one of his characteristic Zen bass solos, and pianist Anschell sparkles.

McCullough and company take on Lennon/McCartney's "Blackbird." One of two non-McCullough-penned tunes on the disc, the familiar melody has seen its share of splendid jazz interpretations—on drummer Tony Williams' Neptune (Blue Note records, 1992) featuring trumpeter Wallace Roney, and, more recently, by cellist Henning Sievert on Blackbird (Pirouet records, 2009), to name just two. McCullough's version wanders further from the melody than most, via labyrinthine soprano lines and the leader's own long and winding road story, told with his clean articulation floating over the gently propulsive rhythm.

McCullough's "Nightmare's Dance" cooks over a high, controlled flame before some of Taylor's tight sax lines weave a tight web through the ensemble interplay. "Lock Down," inspired by an actual lockdown of a school due to a gun on campus, treads dark ground in a sad and reflective mood.

Anschell's "Dreamscape" has a tender and pensive feeling, featuring both sopranos blowing sweetly, with McCullough exhibiting a deep, rich flugelhorn tone, followed by spare, inward, piano turn by Anschell.

.Dark wood, Dark Water, with its organic interplay and beautiful, surprise-filled soloing, is a marvelous debut by an inspired newcomer, on a record label that—with lots of debut discs to its credit—is doing more than its fair share to keep the art form vibrant.

Track Listing: Three Pillars; Blackbird; Nightmare's Dance; Lock Down; Home; Bock's Car; Anatomy of Conscience; Dreamscape; The Oracle.

Personnel: Chad McCullough: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mark Taylor: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Geof Bradfield: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Bill Anschell: piano; Jeff Johnson: bass; John Bishop: drums.

Title: Dark Wood, Dark Water | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Origin Records

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