Today's jazz is a mix of culture and music; with a fresh mixing of the American song book along with American folk, R&B and pop music with the ever evolving canon of post-bop jazz. The ensemble that has taken an unusual name of Cowboys & Frenchmen
found its inspiration for the band name in the short film by David Lynch, called The Cowboy and The Frenchmen
. The film is a Western -but a "Lynchian" Western with a unique interpretation of a classic story genre. Similarly, according to the quintet, "the music has one foot firmly planted in a genre, while the other one is busy trying to kick down the genre's door." You've got to love a Jazz band who calls themselves Cowboys & Frenchmen
. The band is comprised of five creative musicians based in the New York Jazz scene. Owen Broder
on alto sax, clarinet and bass clarinet, Ethan Helm
on alto sax, flute and clarinet, Chris Ziemba
on piano, Ethan O'Reilly
on bass, and Matt Honor
on drums. Their debut project consists of eight selections, with six being originals from various band members and two being arrangements pulling from pop and folk genres.
The opening selection, "Jazz Styles" takes its time to develop, starting with Honor's cymbals and various hand percussion, the group slowly layer in, each adding a unique element to the musical mix. That is the strong point of the project, it is a group effort in every sense of the word. Each player is instrumental in the overall sound of each of the compositions and ultimately the entire musical statement. Helm and Broder continually converse through "Jazz Styles," both providing counterpoint to each other and the rhythm section. The swirling layers this group is able to build upon is remarkable and when one really listens deep into the music, the interaction is breath taking.
"King Barry," by Broder, starts with a rhythmic piano arpeggio figure that is developed by the ensemble into a swelling saxophone melody. Honor's drum coloring really gives the melody an interesting undercurrent that is something special. The tracks form is interesting and the counterpoint is natural and used in just the right spots to add to the melodic flow and lift the energy of the phrase. The fun thing about this two horn group is while the one horn player is soloing, the other will play background figures, integrating into the rhythm section. And speaking of rhythm section, Ziemba's voicings and harmonic colors a stunning.
"A Bridge Inside My Mind" is contributed by Helm, the melody is a tone poem that is stated in a free-flowing rhythmic style by the ensemble with the solo settling into time. Throughout the selection both horns are involved in the musical activities; playing background figures or solos in a group improvisation conversation. The ability of each of the musicians to listen to one-another is astounding and their group improvisations are really some of the best moments on the project. Ziemba takes another fine solo on this one too, his musical vocabulary is fresh and his sense of development is keen On "Because" (Lennon-McCartney) this arrangement sits very nicely within the program and serves as a little breather, but make no mistake, the arrangement is brilliant 2 horn writing and the counterpoint is nice and subtle.
Broder's arrangement of the folk song, "Man of Constant Sorrow" is superb. Jazz has a "kissin' cousin" in bluegrass and it is nice to see someone acknowledge that fact. The musical layers created by this small ensemble is impressive, one might mistake it for a larger ensemble, the sound is that large. Again, the group works as a team to unfold another gratifyingly musical selection that is full of top-notch listening and playing. Ziemba and O'Reilly really get into some magical conversations on this one. O'Reilly's solo is framed with a very interesting horn background figure that the ensemble develops. Again, still riding on that team effort theme. Broder's arrangement of this selection won the 2015 Downbeat Student Award for "Best Master's Arrangement."
Broder's "Brode's Abode" finds the two horns playing in harmony for the opening statement, which later develops into excellent counterpoint. This is modern jazz at its best, everyone has such a command of their instrument and the group sound is snug and astounds. O'Reilly and Honor propel the selection with Ziemba's well placed voicings pushing and driving the horns into a fervor. When Ziemba solos, he makes splendid use of the space.
"More," by Helm, this is my personal favorite, excellent musicianship all around. Super tight phrasing and rhythmic articulation of the melody by the horns. The rhythm section is on their toes, supportive, aggressive in all the right places and above everything, they listen!
A meditative "Bells of Mindfulness" by Broder concludes this exceptional project. This ensemble has taken us on a musical journey that will certainly withstand multiple visits. Cowboys & Frenchmen
have compiled an innovative modern jazz album that has all the musicality and originality that any quintet on the scene today would respect and appreciate. They certainly have created a lasting Rodeo
, and an Excellent debut to boot! Five big stars.