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Natalie Cressman & Secret Garden: Unfolding

Dave Wayne By

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Imagine what it would be like to grow up in a household in which both parents are exceptional jazz musicians, a childhood completely immersed in live music and performance. Natalie Cressman, daughter of vocalist Sandy Cressman and trombonist Jeff Cressman, has had just such an upbringing, and her debut album Unfolding indicates that she is making the most of it. Still in her early 20s, and a student at the Manhattan School of Music with a couple of years' worth of touring with Trey Anastasio under her belt, Natalie became a fixture in the Bay Area scene by her mid-teens, gigging with Pete Escovedo, Peter Apfelbaum and Jai Uttal. Besides playing trombone, singing, and putting the band together, Cressman co-produced Unfolding with her father, Jeff, and composed and arranged all but three of the tracks.

Cressman's originals are quite substantial, drawing inspiration from classic jazz, fusion, Latin jazz, and funk. The result is comparable, perhaps, to the work of Snarky Puppy. The influence of Apfelbaum—with whom both Natalie and her father have collaborated—is also palpable throughout Unfolding, in terms of the music's polyglot rhythmic approach, and its soaring, spiritual-sounding horn harmonies. The opening track, "Flip" is a great example of this. It's a complex, multi-sectioned piece bubbling over with urgent Latin and fusion grooves and lush horn harmonies. Co-written with Adam Nash, "Skylight" is a bit sweeter, with intricate, interlaced, contrapuntal horn melodies. "Echo" is almost a ballad, with swaying 3/4- and 6/8-based rhythms, and wonderful solos by trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg and bassist Ruben Samama. "Waking" progresses from a classically-influenced, almost trance-like beginning into a languid 5/4 groove that supports excellent solos by Samama and saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. "That Kind," featuring a long solo by Apfelbaum, is the album's tour de force. While much of Unfolding seems a little dialed-back, this piece really gets out in left field, and also gives Cressman and her talented rhythm section a chance to strut their stuff.

Cressman's singing takes a back seat to her trombone playing on this disc. Besides her wordless vocals on the original compositions, she sings a couple of standards ("Honeysuckle Rose" and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat") and on one of her own pieces ("Reaching for Home"). Of these, the Charles Mingus / Joni Mitchell collaboration is the highlight. Cressman's arrangement includes an extensive instrumental commentary topped by Rosenberg's fine trumpet solo. "Honeysuckle Rose," by contrast, gets a playful, sunny, hip-hop flavored treatment.Cressman has a fine voice: very straight and pleasantly uninflected, it has a girlish, innocent quality that recalls that of fellow Bay Area denizen (and brass / voice doubler) Sarah Wilson.

While Unfolding is a definitive statement by a self-assured young musician, it's also the product of a well-seasoned and versatile musical mind, mature beyond her years.

Track Listing: Flip; Whistle Song; Honeysuckle Rose; Echo; Skylight; Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; Waking; Reaching For Home; That Kind.

Personnel: Natalie Cressman: trombone, vocals; Ivan Rosenberg: trumpet; Chad Lefkowitz-Brown: tenor saxophone; Pascal Le Boeuf: piano; Ruben Samama: acoustic bass; jake Goldbas: drums, percussion.

Title: Unfolding | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Self Produced

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