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Michael Lake/Gerry Pagano: Roads Less Traveled

Dan Bilawsky By

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The title of this album isn't just talk; it basically defines Michael Lake's entire career in music. Lake has made his way in the music world by playing the alto trombone—an instrument that many would simply look at as a novelty horn. Many years ago, his teacher at Arizona State University—a graduate assistant named Kevin Hedges—turned him onto this lesser-used little brother of the tenor trombone; it's been his go-to horn ever since.

As Lake worked his way into music, studies with forward-thinking trombonist George Lewis helped to widen his perspective, as did his move to Boston, which found him joining up with with a four-trombone salsa band called Caribbean Express. A decade's stay in New York followed, during which time he performed with a variety of straight ahead and Latin outfits, including the band of percussion great Ray Barretto. These days, it almost seems like Lake has gone full circle. He's called Arizona home now for quite some time, and he reunited with his college roomate—St. Louis Symphony bass trombonist Gerry Pagano—for this delightful duo date.

On Roads Less Traveled, Lake paints full canvases. He fills out the sound in multiple ways, adding keyboards, throwing electronics into the mix, and by creatively and judiciously overdubbing horn parts. As the album kicks off, a pair of high energy numbers—Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite" and John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice"—showcase Lake's skills on the horn, his studio savvy, and the blend he achieves with himself and Pagano. Those same two pieces are also cause for concern, as they almost come across like brilliant-and-brassy Music Minus One pieces for a drummer or pianist to jump on. Thankfully, those worries vanish as the album moves on. A less concentrated, more contemplative sound emerges on the third track—Bill Evans' "The Two Lonely People"—and this pair goes every which way from there.

Variety serves Lake and Pagano well as the album continues to unfold. Things get funky during Charles Mingus' "The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines," a rich-and-full sound pours out of the speakers on "Amazing Grace," a broken beginning leads to a stable Latin environment during "The Ecuadorian Two-Step," and a nuanced take on "My Ship" is simply gorgeous. And then there's the least jazz-connected number on the album, which is also the pièce de résistance—Tangerine Dream's "Love On A Real Train." This pair artfully revises that electro-minimalist canvas, completely reclaiming it for themselves.

Lake and Pagano deserve a lot of credit for what they've accomplished here. Roads Less Traveled is an inspired, well-wrought work of art.

Track Listing: Yardbird Suite; Moment's Notice; The Two Lonely People; Painted Desert; The Dry Cleaner; Amazing Grace; Love On A Real Train; Darn That Dream; The Ecuadorian Two-Step; Georgia; A Night In Tunisia; My Ship; I Wuz Ga'zun At The Cajun.

Personnel: Michael Lake: alto trombone, percussion, keyboards, sound design; Gerry Pagano: bass trombone.

Title: Roads Less Traveled | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Self Produced

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