Richard Nelson / Aardvark Jazz Orchestra: Deep River

Budd Kopman By

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The inspiration for jazz composition and improvisation can come from almost anywhere. For guitarist/composer Richard Nelson it was American roots music that he played with his then 12-year-old son who had developed an intense connection to the old tunes and players.

The jazz suite Deep River is the result of experiencing this music with extra intensity through his son and then translating that energy to composing.

Nelson has been associated with Mark Harvey's long existing (40+ years!) Aardvark Jazz Orchestra since the 1980s and wrote many of the parts for specific members of that orchestra.

The result is a very intriguing mix of the presentation of old, simple tunes accompanied by, and many times transformed into, modern big band jazz. Nelson is a very skilled writer and arranger and there will be many instances where the knowledgeable listener will smile at the harmonic twists placed underneath the lines as well as how the tunes are stretched this way or that.

The music always has a good-time, fun nature about it, but this is mixed with the seriousness that Nelson accords the base material. The rather sorrowful "Deep River Blues," beautifully sung by Marcia Gallagher is balanced by the "up" treatment given to "Old Country Stomp" (sprightly sung by Timothy Johnson) and "Wake Up Jacob."

The final sixteen and a half minutes (not quite half the album) are given over to "Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor," made famous by Mississippi John Hurt during the folk revival of 50s and 60s, and could very well stand on its own. The expansive treatment of this very pretty tune is reminiscent of Maria Schneider in its shimmering beauty, with vocals by Gallagher and Johnson about half-way through (as the audience claps along).

This recording was done live, and it is clear from the audience response that was kept in that they appreciated the seriousness of the effort as well as the fun had by all.

Deeply touching in a very interesting way, Deep River just feels good in its wide open embrace.

Track Listing

Deep River Blues; Transit; Old Country Stomp; Wake Up Jacob; Rite of Passage; Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor.


Richard Nelson: composer, arranger, guitar; Mark Harvey: music director, conductor; K.C. Dunbar: trumpet; Jeanne Snodgrass: trumpet; Mark Tipton: trumpet; Arni Cheatham: alto sax, flute; Peter Bloom: alto sax, flute, piccolo; Phil Scarff: tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Chris Rakowski: tenor sax, clarinet; Dan Zupan: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Bob Pilkington: trombone; Jay Keyser: trombone; Jeff Marsanskis: trombone; Bill Lowe: bass trombone, tuba; John Funkhouser: bass; Harry Wellott: drums; Marcia Gallagher: vocals; Timothy Johnson: vocals.

Album information

Title: Deep River | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Heliotrope



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