If you are one of those restless wanderers who is searching high and low for easy listening, look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you are drawn to music that is more or less off the beaten path and challenges your mind and spirit, composer / arranger / trombonist Ed Neumeister‘s new album may well serve as the anomalous Wake Up Call you’ve been waiting for. It takes no more than a few moments of listening to the labyrinthine, through-composed opener, “Birds of Prey,” to ascertain that this is not your parents’ big-band jazz. There’s nary a taste of Basie, Herman, Kenton or Rich on this bill of fare.
Instead, Neumeister takes his cue from such cutting-edge draftsmen as Bob Brookmeyer, Gary McFarland, Thad Jones, Gil Evans and Manny Albam, among others, alongside more established trail-blazers as Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. While Neumeister’s wealth of experience includes time spent in big bands led by Mel Lewis, Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton and Mercer Ellington, he has chosen his own path to fulfillment, living and working mostly in Europe for almost two decades. He returned to New York to record Wake Up Call, presiding over a NeuHat Ensemble whose members are among the finest jazz musicians the city has to offer. That’s essential, as nothing that Neumeister places on a music stand is less than precise and demanding.
That includes the fugue-like “Birds of Prey” and everything that follows, from the light-hearted “Dog Play” to the animated “Wake Up Call,” which Neumeister says reflects his hope that someday humankind “will be living in peace and prosperity without violent conflict against our fellow citizens or Mother Nature” (good luck with that). Clarinetist Billy Drewes is showcased on “Dog Play,” tenor Rich Perry on the dancing “New Groove,” which follows, trombonist Larry Farrell and tenor Dick Oatts on the pensive “Reflection.” Neumeister solos twice, with alto Mark Gross on “Deliberation” (on which his evocative trombone virtually “talks”) and Oatts on “Locomotion,” while pianist David Berkman has center stage to himself on another fugue-based theme, “Processize.”
As noted, Neumeister’s music isn’t easy, for performers or listeners, but in either case it rewards those who are willing to accept the challenge at hand and embrace it with an open mind and open ears.