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Ed Neumeister: Reflection

Budd Kopman By

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I am embarrassed to say that Ed Neumeister is a new name to me, since he is a master trombonist who plays the instrument with a tone and facility that almost belies its membership in the brass family.

Neumeister is a veteran of many large groups, including Mel Lewis' big band, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Lionel Hampton Band and the Buddy Rich Band. After living, teaching and performing in Europe for the last seven years, Neumeister is relocating back to the States. Reflection is but one of his projects, the other (main) one being his NeuHat Ensemble, which performs an exciting mix of classical and jazz.

The music on Reflection is all original, and as such is sort of the flip side to his earlier release, New Standards. Of the eight tracks, five are by Neumeister, plus one each by bassist Drew Gress ("It Was After The Rain That The Angel Came"), pianist Fritz Pauer ("Yanagumi") and drummer John Hollenbeck ("Coping Song"). Neumeister mentions in the notes that this quartet is a real working band, and that the record was recorded while it was touring. He also talks about how the compositions by the other band members fit perfectly into his conception, without them knowing exactly what that was in advance.

A blowing record this is not, but while the arrangements are more or less evident, the music always maintains the spirit of surprise. It is very light, flexible and delicate, but with a strong center maintained by different player groupings as each track progresses. There is also a very high intelligence quotient, which should not be taken to mean stuffy or precious performances, but rather a conviction that less is more, so everything is in its place and all proceeds naturally according to a plan, without feeling even slightly "composed." Thus, the music is a gift, since the listener can perceive and understand what is happening and yet know that there is much more in deeper layers waiting to be explored on the next listen.

The memorable themes and melodies on this disc virtually haunted me for days and days. Whether it is Neumeister's trombone exposition of "Trees" (played in a "delicate Afro 12/8" meter), or the theme of the Gress tune, or even the more open "Osmosis," the band's improvisation never lets the melody stray never far away—and that makes it memorable and keeps reminding the ear. Hollenbeck's exquisite, extremely moving "Coping Song," written on 9/12/2001, is a prime example of how the group is not merely a lead trombone with a rhythm section.

Both streaming music and the liner notes can be enjoyed on Neumeister's website, but if you are like me, you will want to play the hard copy for full fidelity. While the notes are detailed, they will not replace close listening to this engaging and rewarding music. Highly recommended.

Visit Ed Neumeister on the web.

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