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John Yao's Triceratops: How We Do

Franz A. Matzner By

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Trombonist and bandleader John Yao possesses a penchant for imposing ambitious artistic constraints on himself. How We Do continues that trend with a newly formed quintet comprised only of three horns, bass, and drums. Yao further ups the ante by composing demanding pieces that often careen from one stylistic approach to another within the same tune.

This breed of endeavor can result in a final product mainly appreciated by fellow musicians and dedicated aficionados. Fortunately, Yao and his compatriots demonstrate an equal dedication to crafting music of broader appeal. This flows in part from the atmosphere of fun and humor that leavens the album, including salvaging the occasional moments that miss the mark by becoming bogged down.

Another engaging aspect of How We Do is the smoothness of the quintet's execution. As leader, Yao avoids overburdening tunes with his own playing, giving space for saxophonists Billy Drewes and Jon Irabagon to shine. The two are able to play with synchronicity, their approaches complimenting rather than competing. Irabagon's jaunty, unconventional phrasing on tenor is peppered with quirky jumps and abrupt register shifts, while Drewes' soprano and alto work moves with a cooler, floating quality that assists in establishing the richness of the music, especially when reinforced by Yao's dusky tone.

It would be remiss not to emphasize the contributions of drummer Mark Ferber and Yao's frequent partner, bassist Peter Brendler. The pair provide the fire and force that keeps the music buoyant. Ferber's crisp, brisk playing is a constant propellent—particularly his popping snare and rock solid hi-hat which come forward on pieces like the charming "Doin' the Thing" and the stand-out "Triceratops Blues." Brendler's steady pulse and lithe inflections are also prominent on this piece and Yao delivers a stellar solo as well.

Yao's line up meets the challenge of composing and arranging for a horn-only quintet with aplomb. The music swings, lopes and races forward. All five of the bandmembers share command of their instruments and a likeminded sense of joy that makes the album feel like an amusment park ride: energetic, exciting, yet safe.

Hopefully, Yao will continue to create challenges like this for himself and his colleagues. Even when the venture causes occasional stumbles, the music overall gains from Yao's willingness to take risks, have fun and get messy.

Track Listing: Three Parts as One; Triceratops Blues; How We Do; The Golden Hour; Doin’ The Thing; Circular Path; Two Sides; Tea for T.

Personnel: John Yao: Trombone; Billy Drewes: soprano and alto saxophones; Jon Irabagon: tenor saxophone; Peter Brendler: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.

Title: How We Do | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: See Tao Recordings

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