In case anyone is wondering whether big-band jazz continues to hold appeal for younger musicians, witness this debut five-track album from trombonist Mariel Austin
. Despite (or perhaps because of) her youth, Austin possesses an ambitious and expansive vision. And on Runner in the Rain
, she marshals a skilled ensemble, many of whom are friends from the New England Conservatory or the Berklee College of Music, to craft music that has one foot firmly planted in the jazz tradition, while the other roams a bit more freely, most frequently into rock-influenced territory.
There is a fierce rhythmic punch to the opening bars of the record's first track, "A Rough, Unsorted Compiling of Ways Not to Exist," as the electric bass of Neil Patton
locks in with drummer Dor Herskovits
for a rousing start, and the horns soon enter bracingly, with a lot of motion and harmonic depth, fitting given the tune's inspiration in the compositions of George Russell
. Austin transitions out of this up-tempo mode fairly quickly, however, with other segments that reveal more subtle sentiments, and these allow her to utilize the band's full resources even more convincingly, generating darker evocations that are much more pensive and mysterious, with some catchy horn ostinato parts eventually providing the momentum that leads to the piece's hard-driving finish.
Austin's take on Wayne Shorter
's "Night Dreamer" is similarly creative, while remaining well within the tune's original parameters. Noah Preminger
builds a stimulating solo on the energy of Austin's feisty horn arrangement, and the vibes provided by Andria Nicodemou
add another level of texture to the track. "Mirrorshift" and "One-way Journey Home" display more of Austin's restless aesthetic, with a strong funk-rock dynamic fueling Austin's rich, multilayered charts. Austin gets her own solo turn on the latter track, and it's quite effective, with melodic and emotional depth.
Finally, on the closing track, "Runner in the Rain," we see yet another facet of Austin's approach, as she sings a poignant tune in remembrance of a close friend's passing. In using a string section for this piece, and an enigmatic bass clarinet solo from Austin Yancey
, Austin explores some bleak emotional terrain, but the overall effect is transfixing. It's the least "big-band"-sounding piece on the album, and it may be the record's most promising, as it points toward an even more unique path Austin might pursue on upcoming releases. At any rate, this is certainly an auspicious debut, and Austin should have a lot to offer as her career unfolds.
A Rough, Unsorted Compiling of Ways Not to Exist; Night Dreamer; Mirrorshift; One-way Journey Home; Runner in the Rain.
Mariel Austin: trombone, compositions, vocals (5); Noah Preminger: tenor saxophone (2); Nigel Yancey: alto saxophone, flute;
Richard Garcia: alto saxophone, clarinet; Gustavo D’Amico: tenor saxophone, flute; Travis Bliss: tenor saxophone; Austin
Yancey: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Danny Fratina: trumpet; Kai Sandoval: trumpet; David Adewumi: trumpet; Jon
Weidley: trumpet; Jordan Skomal: trumpet; Dorsey Minns: trombone; Grant Randall: trombone; Yoshie Nakayama: trombone;
Joe Ricard: bass trombone; Andria Nicodemou: vibraphone (2); Vaughn Stoffey: guitar; James Fernando: piano (2); Chris
McCarthy: piano; Neil Patton: bass; Dor Herskovits: drums; Jakub Trasak: violin (5); Rafael Natan: violin (5); Marnen Laibow-
Koser: violin (5); Ludovica Burtone: violin (5); Georgina McKay Lodge: viola (5); Sofia Basile: viola (5); Valerie Thompson: cello
(5); Jason Coleman: cello (5).