Trumpeter Jack Walrath went back to Montana in January of 1980 to accomplish three things: visit his parents, burn down his old high school, and do a recording with a local quartet calledinterestingly enoughMontana. Walrath never got around to torching his alma mater, but he did develop a working relationship with four talented musicians who were just as dedicated to stretching the envelope as he was. The result was In Montana
, just re-released by Labor Records.
Montana wasn't your average "flyover country pickup group. Chuck Florence had played saxophone with organist Jack MacDuff, as well as the Detroit Symphony, while drummer Jim Honaker had done time at New England Conservatory with tenor saxophonist Ricky Ford, Walrath's partner-in-crime in Charles Mingus' band. Pianist Bob Nell and Kelly Roberty on bass didn't possess the national credits their cohorts had, but the writing and playing they contributed to In Montana show they learned their lessons well, even this far off the beaten path.
In fact, this band was pretty formidable without Walrath, as "Remembrance demonstrates. Recorded live two months after the In Montana session, Florence's composition swirls and roars like an angry winged lion; Florence threatens to break glass with the notes he squeezes out of his tenor sax, and Nell anchors the piece with passionate piano reminiscent of Herbie Hancock. So by itself, Montana acquits itself well. When Walrath steps into the mix though, the combination is positively explosive.
"Lodgelian Mode sails headlong into post-bop swing, with Walrath and Florence harmonizing on the head like they've been working together for years. Walrath's trumpet is frenetic and aggressive, as is Florence's tenor solo. The piece never stops swinging, but there is just enough chaos and dissonance in the arrangement to tell you this is not a mainstream piece. Walrath brought a lot of Mingus with him to this date, and Montana is definitely down with the program.
The Nell tune "Ron's Blues acts as a natural follow-up, with unexpected time changes and arrangements played over a swinging framework; Florence releases his inner Trane on a piercing in-the-clear soprano solo that turns into a boisterous duet with Walrath.
On "Seper B the harmonies are almost shocking, as Nells links up with Walrath and Florence to create a powerful one-two-three punch. "A Wolf Gang of Arabia has Florence going Eastern on soprano while the rest of the band plays weirder and weirder percussion breaks. Walrath's plaintive "Where Have I Been is the polar opposite of "Wolf Gang, though the band does heat up as Walrath's solo shifts shape.
In Montana would be a terrific disc without the back story. However, remember when this was recorded: the musical gold standard was Weather Report, Miles Davis was inching towards an electric comeback, and Wynton Marsalis was just another Jazz Messenger. We embrace the music of In Montana now, but in 1980, these tunes were coming from a time that was headed for the collective memory hole. Fortunately, performer and songwriter Peter Allen was correctEverything old is new again.
Jack Walrath: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chuck Florence: tenor sax, soprano sax; Bob Nell: piano; Kelly Roberty: bass; Jim Honaker: drums.