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Plunge: In For The Out

Dave Wayne By

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Plunge: In For The Out
Trombonist Mark McGrain is one of those guys who follows his own muse. Though he's not particularly prolific, each of his albums as a leader feature some truly profound music-making. In for the Out is no exception. On his fourth album as a leader, McGrain has re-invented himself, playing with an expanded New Orleans-based group and with a completely revamped sound. Tin Fish Tango (Immersion Media, 2011) and Dancing on Thin Ice (Immersion Media, 2009), also recorded in New Orleans with stalwarts Tim Green and James Singleton, featured McGrain in a free-ish stripped-down, drummer-less chamber jazz setting that had a puckish Steve Lacy-like flavor. Edgy and "out" yet still friendly and approachable. McGrain's first album, Falling With Grace (Accurate Records, 1996) with Rakalam Bob Moses, Avishai Cohen and Marcus Rojas, was a grooving jazz-funk celebration of low-register sounds. Interestingly Falling From Grace has the same funky, exploratory urgency that characterizes In for the Out.

A peek at the personnel listing on In for the Out will give you a good idea of what's going on here. The lineup features a veritable firmament of New Orleans jazz elite. Sousaphonist Kirk Joseph (who also plugs in his instrument for a bit of unexpected sonic variation) is best-known as a charter member of the celebrated Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Singleton is simply one of the finest bassists to ever lay his hands on the instrument: no trip to the Big Easy is complete without seeing him and Johnny Vidacovich play a gig somewhere in town. Saxophonist Tim Green, who tragically passed away shortly after this recording was completed, was universally recognized as one of New Orleans' finest saxophonists. Tom Fitzpatrick, who has worked with Walter Washington and Ana Popovic, joins McGrain and Green to comprise a formidable three-horn front line. Funky keyboard virtuoso Robert Walter is a wonderful addition, and his freewheeling, soulful improvisations provide some of the album's most inspired moments. Simon Lott is an excellent young drummer who, like McGrain himself, mixes a deep knowledge of funk and jazz tradition with anarchic free-jazz tendencies and a fascination for electronic sounds. At times, his electronic percussion seems like an afterthought or an overlay on an already complete tune (as on "Monkey Mitts," "Schoolie's Day," and "Birmingham Songo"). On "The Speed of Darkness," "As Angels Roar," and "Beyond The Night," however, Lott's electronic sound painting is completely integrated into the music, providing an eerie ever-shifting backdrop to free-ish group improvisations and—as on "Beyond The Night"—sensitive balladeering.

Overall, the group sound is similar to John Ellis' sousaphone-fueled funky-yet-edgy jazz excursions. In for the Out is largely, though not completely, devoted to New Orleans-style joyous, funky, plugged-in modern jazz. Yet, there are plenty of departures and unexpected curveballs. McGrain is not averse to using electronic effects to enhance his sound, though his unadorned acoustic sound is lush, full, and round. He's a remarkably complete trombonist who can deal in a variety of styles. Like Joe Fiedler, McGrain's one of those rare trombonists who's equally adept at the heavy, blaring tailgate sound (like Gary Valente or Roswell Rudd) as well as the fleet bebop-derived style exemplified by players such as Julian Priester and J.J. Johnson. McGrain even gets into some heavy multiphonics à la Albert Mangelsdorff.

Though tunes like "The Jilt," "Monkey Mitts," "Birmingham Songo," "Schoolie's Day," and "Second Man Suit" definitely have the New Orleans funk thing goin' on, In for the Out is an extremely diverse album. There are also free-ish sounds ("The Speed of Darkness," "As Angels Roar"), a lovely ballad ("Beyond The Night"), and a mysterious-sounding piece—"Exit Strategy"—that sounds a bit like a funked-up take on Duke Ellington's "Fluerette Africaine." McGrain breaks down the group a bit for the four-part "Entropy Suite," which features the leader accompanied largely by Lott and Singleton, though both saxophonists join in for the last part. The suite opens with the spooky, elegiac "Hymn to the End of Rampant Disparity." "Bear and Eagle Meet Raven" mixes angular funk and contrapuntal free improvisation in a particularly engaging way. Here, Lott and Singleton show why they are two of New Orleans' most sought-after players. "Too Weak To Exhale," dominated by the long, droning sounds of Singleton's arco bass and McGrain's gurgling alphorn, is somewhat reminiscent of Ornette Coleman's free-jazz dirges. "With Love Alone" features Green's fragile saxello flying aloft over a chorale of tenor, 'bone, arco bass, and Lott's electronic and acoustic percussion (here perfectly balanced and eerily effective).

Though the music is palpably tinged by the sad loss of Green and McGrain's brother Tim (the album is dedicated to both), In for the Out seems more like a celebration: one rooted in the joy of experiencing each others' lives, even if only for a little while. The mix of styles, on paper, might seem a little disjointed or odd. But McGrain and his highly skilled colleagues make perfect sense of it all, offering something life-affirming for us all to enjoy.

Track Listing

The Jilt; Monkey Mitts; Schoolie's Day; Falling with Grace; The Speed of Darkness; Second Man Suit; As Angels Roar; Beyond the Night; Exit Strategy; Entropy Suite: part 1 - Hymn to the End of Rampant Disparity; part 2 - Bear And Eagle Meet Raven; part 3 - Too Weak to Exhale; part 4 - With Love Alone; Birmingham Songo; An Unspannable Divide.

Personnel

Mark McGrain: trombone, alphorn; Robert Walter: Hammond B-3 organ; Kirk Joseph: sousaphone; Simon Lott: drums & electronic percussion; Tom Fitzpatrick: tenor saxophone, flute; James Singleton: contrabass; Tim Green: saxello, baritone saxophone.

Album information

Title: In For The Out | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Immersion Records & Media

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