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Pushing the boundaries of spontaneous expression, one of trumpeter Herb Robertson's latest projects is the MacroQuarktet with fellow trumpeter Dave Ballou and the formidable rhythm tandem of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey. Eschewing a blitzkrieg approach, the three improvisations on Each Part a Whole exude deliberative patience with ideas tested and developed into longer narrative arcs.
Both trumpeters make imaginative use of mutes, other valve instruments (flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet, cornet) and found objects (electric megaphones, plastic hoses) to extend their timbral options. While Ballou favors longer, cleanly-articulated phrases, Robertson often erupts with quick note clusters and/or slurred sounds, his patented vocalizing through the horn adding another dimension; the contrast creates natural tension that drives the music. On "Neuroplasticity: Part 2," Rainey builds a groove beneath the horns' warbling exchange, eliciting clipped retorts from Robertson and a repeating patter from Ballou, before his galloping solo. Spotlighting the group's egalitarianism, the horns recede for a duet of Gress' thrumming runs and Rainey's clacking rim rolls.
"Ducks & Geese...or Rabbits?" opens with piercing wails and growling slurs from the trumpets, as sparse atmospherics reign. Gress' bowed drones mingle with Robertson's snarls, sounding like a didgeridoo. Malleted drums provide deep accompaniment before Rainey's martial solo ushers in an elegant concluding trumpet theme. Bass hits punctuate skittering drums and begin to pulsate under the curt bleats of "Basal D. Ganglia." Its spare middle section of bows, mutes and scraped cymbals gives way to an intensifying, prodding groove as the darting trumpets veer ever closer together in the final crescendo. Never forced, the MacroQuarktet's bold improvisations unfurl with an assurance of intent and breadth of imagination that obviates composition.
Track Listing: Neuroplasticity (Parts 1-2-3); Ducks and Geese Or Rabbits (Parts 4-5-6-7); Basal D. Ganglia (Parts 8-9-10).
Personnel: Herb Robertson: trumpet, cornet, electric megaphone, mutes & attachments; Dave Ballou: trumpet, piccolo trumpet, flugelhorn, plastic hose, mutes; Drew Gress: acoustic bass, fan; Tom Rainey: drums and cymbals.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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