The cross-pollination of jazz and folk music is nothing new, but saxophonist Owen Broder
does push things forward in this exploration of the idea, asking five different composers from varying generations and backgrounds to each write their own take on American folk music for an eight-piece ensemble.
Besides Broder himself, the compositions and arrangements come from Miho Hazama
, Bill Holman
, Jim McNeely
, Ryan Truesdell
and Alphonso Horne
. Holman, whose career stretches back to working for Stan Kenton
in the fifties, does the most conventional chart, recasting Hank Williams' "Jambalaya" as a hard-blowing jazz shouter featuring sweetly swinging violin from Sara Caswell
and hot trumpet from Scott Wendholt against sassy band voicings. McNeely's version of "Cripple Creek" also relies heavily on Caswell. Her wild sawing bluegrass fiddle is everywhere, set against anxious piano and vibraphone on the introduction, leading the entire band into a brassy hoedown and providing the climax to a wild round of trumpet, sax and piano solos all over Matt Wilson
's stomping two-beat drums.
Ryan Truesdell's two charts are both atmospheric. "Wayfaring Stranger" is taken at a slow, ominous pace set by Frank Kimbrough
's piano and Jay Anderson
's bass which underlines haunting vocals by the chorus of Kate McGarry
, Wendy Gilles
and Vuya Sotashe. Truesdell's original piece, "Brodeo," starts with Broder on alto and Caswell engaging in a breakneck backwoods chase over a chiming background with a hint of Aaron Copland to it. Then the music switches gears to a more relaxed melody where Broder, Caswell and Kimbrough engage in a less frantic but still lively dance.
Miho Hazama is from Japan. Her two pieces have a more outsider perspective on the subject. On "Wherever This Road Leads" she uses weaving horn harmonies in a more classically-oriented style with an underlying folk lilt. This leads to graceful solos by Caswell and trombonist Nick Finzer over crashing cymbals before the inevitable hoedown sets in. "I'm Not Afraid To Die" is the simplest arrangement on the set with Wendholt delivering a lovely clear recitation of the melody and Kimbrough playing elegiac, jazz-tinged piano over warm colors by the rest of the ensemble.
Alphonso Horne grew up in a home with South African roots so he comes up with something unlike any other music on the session. "The People Could Fly" derives from a African folk tune and has Vuyo Sotashe leading the singers and ensemble into a swaying melody with flute and violin trilling dancing high notes. Then the music moves into a New Orleans funeral march tempo with Finzer braying wah-wah trombone and the entire band shifting into a minor key blues until overdubbed voices and handclaps slowly overwhelm all.
Owen Broder himself bookends the set with his two contributions. "Goin' Up Home" starts with a traditional folk lament played by the brass and vibes at a fast shuffle tempo which quickly evolves into vibraphonist James Shipp
and Finzer soloing freely in 4/4 time as the group punches out the melody in sleek big band fashion. The closer, "Wiser Man Than Me," is a beautiful slow walking gospel piece with Broder taking the spotlight on solemn baritone sax cushioned by the vocal trio and Kimbrough's gentle down home piano.
The variety of approaches taken by each composer really makes this set stand out. Big band shouting, hot swing, gospel, bluegrass and African folk songs are all ingeniously woven into the fabric of American roots music by six dynamic composers. This is one of the early standout recordings of the year.
Goin' Up Home; Wherever This Road Leads; Jambalaya; Cripple Creek; Wayfaring Stranger;
I'm Not Afraid to Die; Brodeo; The People Could Fly; A Wiser Man Than Me.
Owen Broder: woodwinds; Sara Caswell: violin; Scott Wendholt: trumpet; Nick Finzer: trombone; James Shipp: vibraphone, percussions; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Jay Anderson: bass; Matt Wilson: drums; Wendy Gilles: voice; Kate McGarry: voice; Vuyo Sotashe: voice.