Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Instrumental CD of the Month - "Russ Nolan: Tell Me"

Instrumental CD of the Month
Russ Nolan: "Tell Me" (Rhinoceruss) 2012

Featuring: Russ Nolan (tenor sax), Art Hirahara (acoustic piano & Fender Rhodes), Michael O’Brien (acoustic & electric bass), Brian Fishler (drums), Zach Brock (violin & producer)
Recorded on March 8, 2012
Recorded, Mixed, and Mastered by Paul Wickliffe
Recorded at Charlestown Road Studios, Hampton, NJ
Mixed & Mastered at Skyline Productions, Warren, NJ

Forget about the old young lions that made jazz retreat and fall back in time, deleting all the "fusions" & experiments previously set by the innovators of the 60s and 70s. Forget about the new team of arrogant American musicians (praised only by jazz magazines) who live in ego-trips and seem to be in an eternal competition with fellow jazzmen to see who plays/records the most "complicated" music on the planet. And, since Russ Nolan is a sax player, please forget about these ultra-boring pianoless sax/bass/drums trios that perform the perfect soundtrack to be heard in hell.

On this new disc, Nolan tells me about a jazz that is pure joy, enthusiasm and rhythmic energy (elements that seem to have dissappeared from the contemporary jazz scene). Yes, "contemporary jazz" because it's played and created today by people like... Nolan! and a few other "crazy" musicians that have the nerve to break the mold and, therefore, are ignored by jazz snobs/purists.

An inspired composer and very creative arranger, who has no prejudice for other musical genres, showcasing his passion for latin-jazz (ie, the Afro-Cuban rhythms he grew up with), Nolan provides strong originals and great jazz renditions of high-quality pop tunes by such stars as Stevie Wonder ("Creepin'", the B-side of the "Another Star" single) and John Lennon ("Nowhere Man," from the Beatles' "Rubber Soul"). "Man in the Mirror," Glen Ballard/Siedah Garrett's hit written for Michael Jackson's Quincy Jones-produced "Bad" album, is another highlight.

Nolan's treatment to one of Weather Report's anthems, the haunting Joe Zawinul ballad "A Remark You Made" (from one of their seminal albums during the Jaco Pastorius heyday, "Heavy Weather"), is a daring testament of musical audacity. Jazz purists shall also avoid Nolan's version of Oliver Nelson's signature tune, "Stolen Moments," that can maybe cause a heart attack on those pathetic figures.

The members of Nolan's band are top (although not yet famous) players too. Art Hirahara sounds superb throught the album - recorded in a single day, btw, on March 8, 2012, something that helps to explains its contagious sense of spontainety -, specially when the keyboardist uses that delightful Rhodes sound. But all the band deserves recognition for doing a great job. Not only our "instrumental CD of the month," but certainly one of the "best jazz albums of the year" in the forthcoming Jazz Station annual poll. Now, let's join Nolan and the guys -- Art Hirahara, Michael O’Brien, Brian Fishler and special guest violinist/producer Zach Brock -- LIVE, celebrating the CD release of "Tell Me' at The Kitano Hotel, Thursday, December 13th, 2012, with sets at 8 & 10PM. featuring Art Hirahara, Michael O’Brien, Brian Fishler and special guest Zach Brock. Be happy!
Russ Nolan’s music is often described as High-Energy Modern Jazz that both satisfies the intellect of its musical peers and speaks to everyone on a soulful level. Called a ‘renaissance man’ by those close to him, he has taken his experiences in sports, martial arts, business, after-school program volunteering, music education, and other activities to relate to a wider audience. Russ is an accomplished and active Salsa dancer in NYC and has used his inspiration on the dance floor to craft this fascinating "Tell Me."
In the ten years since his move to New York City from Chicago, tenor saxophonist/composer/arranger Russ Nolan has made great strides in advancing his musical career. He immersed himself in the scene, playing and collaborating with a wide range of musicians. He made his first recordings as a leader-the quartet date "Two Colors" (2004) and the much-praised "With You in Mind" (2008), on which he was backed by the Kenny Werner Trio. And, less typically, he hit the dance floor, becoming an active and accomplished salsa dancer.

It was Nolan's experiences as a dancer over the last five years that led to the conception and execution of  "Tell Me," released through his own Rhinoceruss Music. "On the dance floor, you key off of a rhythm," he says. "Getting it into my body helped my sense of time. I became a lot freer with rhythm." Latin rhythms assert themselves in unexpected places and in unexpected ways on the new album, produced by and featuring violin sensation Zach Brock. "Russ and I began our musical relationship over ten years ago in Chicago," says Brock. "I feel privileged to have worked on both the production and performance aspects of this recording. The band is top-notch, the music is both challenging and accessible, and the bandleader is a truly inspiring soloist, writer, and arranger."

Nolan is a powerful tenor player who strikes a soulful balance between a classic, hard-edged sound and the airier tones and textures popularized by Michael Brecker. As an arranger he applies his distinctive touch to an array of material including Joe Zawinul's "A Remark You Made," John Lennon's "Nowhere Man," and, most strikingly, Oliver Nelson's jazz standard "Stolen Moments," treated as an Afro-Cuban 6/8 undercurrent. "The singer I wrote it for didn't like 6/8, so I kept it for myself," Nolan says of the dynamic chart.

For the new disc, Nolan put together a strong quartet comprised of Art Hirahara, the San Francisco native whose second album, Noble Path, was released last year on Posi-Tone; bassist Michael O'Brien, who plays with Brazilian guitarist Sandro Alberti; and drummer Brian Fishler. (producer/violinist Zach Brock appears on three tracks.) "We're a band," Nolan says. "We've spent a lot of time together. These guys may not be well known yet, but they can really play."

Russ Nolan, 44, was born and raised in Gurnee, Illinois (halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee), where he was a star basketball and baseball player and also played in the school marching and jazz bands. After a few semesters at Northern Illinois University, Nolan ended up in the vaunted jazz program at North Texas State (now known as the University of North Texas). He became friends there with fellow saxophonist Jeff Coffin, with whom he played in a three-tenor band also featuring Larry Panella. Back in Chicago, however, he played very little music from 1994 until the end of the decade.

Then he was contracted to play in the orchestra that backed singer Kurt Elling at Mayor Richard M. Daley's big millennium bash. That was where he first met Brock, with whom he subsequently played in a quintet of musicians associated with the Bloom School of Jazz. Yet the Windy City was never the right fit for Nolan. The more he studied and played with visiting New Yorkers including Chris Potter, Kenny Werner, and Dave Liebman -- and the more they encouraged him to move to the Big Apple -- the more he knew he had to go East if he was going to make anything of his career.

He made the move six months after 9/11, settling in Sunnyside, Queens. It wasn't easy getting gigs, but being in the jazz capital of the world rejuvenated him. (He also met his wife, Luz, while pursuing his salsa dance muse.) "Playing here is everything I could have hoped for," he says. "There's such a strong sense of community that phrases like 'Hey, let's try this' and 'I think this would work better here' help create the dynamic and progressive music this city is known for."

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