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Album Review

Chad McCullough: Forward


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Chad McCullough: Forward
Since his excellent recording debut under his own name, 2009's Dark Wood, Dark Water (Origin Records), trumpeter Chad McCullough has co-led a handful of forward-leaning discs with Belgian pianist Bram Weijters and one with Slovakian pianist Michal Vanoucek, in addition his work as sideman and his contributions to a few leaderless ensemble sets. Forward is just his second outing with his name on the album cover as the sole leader.

His is a consistently strong catalog, but McCullough shines brightest in his trumpeter and a rhythm section outings: Abstract Quantities (2015), Urban Nightingale (2012) and Imaginary Sketches (2011), all on Origin Records, all with pianist Weijters. With Forward, McCullough sharpens his vision further in the a trumpeter and piano/bass/drums mode, the way Miles Davis did it on his overlooked, early career Musings With Miles (Prestige, 1955), or—to bring things into a more recent timeframe—in the Tomasz Stanko style of the wonderful Wislawa (ECM, 2013) or Ralph Alessi's Baida (ECM, 2013), four man groups working their magic outside of the template of two horns and a rhythm section mode set by trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker's Diz and Bird (Clef/Verve, 1952).

The description "soft sparkle" comes to mind as "November Lake," the set's opening tune, spins into existence. It is a sparse, cushioned sort of Miles Davis In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) vibe. Part of this is Rob Clearfield's nimble piano work; part of it is McCullough's beautiful tone and unhurried articulation, along with bassist Matt Ulery's warm heartbeat, the subtle and insistent intricacies of Jon Deitemyer's drums. In these regards, Forward has in common, with the previously mentioned classic quartet sets by Davis, Alessi and Stanko, the advantages of being a first rate ensemble playing superior compositions (all by McCullough) in a cohesive context on comfort level of the highest order.

"Oak Park" takes things to the next level. A tribute to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright (Wright's studio was in Oak Park, near Chicago), the tune is a somber and contemplative paean, ten minutes of McCullough-crafted beauty augmented by the subtle studio wizardry (keyboards and programming) of Forward's producer Ryan Cohen. Three of the set's six tunes feature Cohen's contributions, including "Grace At The Gavel Or Grace At The Gallows," featuring Cohen's understated, fade in/fade out, "with strings-like" backdrop, and "Water Tower Sunset," a gorgeous, introspective, kick-back-at-day's end celebration of life, to wrap a trumpeter/flugelhornist/composer Chad McCullough's finest recording to date.

Track Listing

November Lake; Oak Park; Gentle; Grace At The Gavel Or Grace At The Gallows; Focal Point; Water Tower Sunset.


Chad McCullough: trumpet; Rob Clearfield: piano; Matt Ulery: bass, acoustic; Jon Deitemyer: drums; Ryan Cohen: electronics.

Album information

Title: Forward | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Outside in Music

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