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Gregg August: Late August

John Kelman By

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More and more we seem to be witnessing a cross-pollination of musicians trained in one form of music, but ultimately actively engaged in another. Bassist Gregg August majored in classical performance when he attended the Eastman School of Music, but he also studied jazz forms with Bill Dobbins—another artist whose career has coexisted in both worlds—and composition/arranging with Rayburn Wright. While he spent the early part of his career dichotomously working the New York jazz scene and taking the bass chair in La Orquesta Ciutat de Barcelona in Spain, he quickly realized his more compelling calling.

His strong attraction to Afro-Cuban music led to high-profile gigs with Ray Vega, Ray Barretto, and Paquito D'Riviera, and so it's no surprise that his debut recording, Late August, is filled with fiery Latin rhythms. But you are the sum of your experiences, and August also brings to the table a rich sense of orchestration, giving the sextet that dominates much of the disc a vivid sound that often feels bigger than it is. And, like the music of other contemporary artists including Luis Perdomo and Edward Simon, the Latin elements are tightly fused with unassailable swing, shifting meters, and imaginative harmonic invention—a complex blend handled in de rigueur fashion by his well-known compatriots, including saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Myron Walden and trumpeter John Bailey.

The program of August originals kicks off with "Sweet Maladie, where the leader quickly establishes a preference for a bright sound and detailed arrangements that change tempo on a dime, yet flow effortlessly. The core of "Sweet Maladie is an altered Afro-Cuban blues, with Israeli-born pianist Alon Yavnai demonstrating a firm grasp of displaced rhythm, while McCaslin's unhurried sense of development creates a kind of understated simmer.

August's open harmonies and gentle punctuations give the theme of "Four Two K an attractive foundation that further expands into the middle section, where Walden and Bailey solo confidently over deceptive changes that challenge them to find connecting melodic threads. The columbine blue "Treatments in Darkness has a Gil Evans-like ambience, the horns winding in and out of unison to broader harmonies, while drummer Eric McPhearson plays a more textural role featuring dramatic mallets and understated brushwork.

Late August may primarily focus on August the composer/arranger, but he's not a slouch as a performer. "Los Dos Cotós, a duet with Wilson "Chembo Corniel on congas, may be but a brief interlude, but August's elliptical style and ability to suggest changes with a rare sleight of hand reveal plenty. The solo "Eulogy provides the most direct link to August's classical background, with a rich arco tone that makes even the most dissonant harmonies of the piece appealing.

Artists traditionally associated with Latin music are increasingly broadening their horizons these days, embracing the tradition but assimilating it into a greater cosmopolitanism. Late August may lean heavily towards the Afro-Cuban tradition, but it does so in a way that expands the music beyond its confined borders, making for an impressive and auspicious debut.

Track Listing: Sweet Maladie; Four Two K; M's Blues; Treatments in Darknesds; Los Dos Cotos; Melody in Black and Grey; Eulogy; Deceptions; Work in Progress.

Personnel: Gregg August: bass; John Bailey: trumpet; Myron Walden: alto saxophone; Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone; Frank Wess: tenor saxophone; Alon Yavnai: piano; John Hart: guitar; Eric McPhearson: drums; Ray Barretto, Wilson Corneil: congas.

Title: Late August | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Iacuessa Records

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