Ed Neumeister, a former member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, is a versatile trombonist, composer, arranger, and conductor who debuted The NeuHat Ensemble in 1983. Since then, the reputed band has accommodated several jazz luminaries such as Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner, and Don Byron, just to name a few. Subjected to alterations in its lineup throughout the years, the ensemble was reunited after Neumeister has returned to the US from Austria, where he taught for nearly 15 years. As a result, Wake Up Call holds out to eight evocative originals solidly orchestrated through airy and polished arrangements.
Striding with a soft backbeat, “Birds of Prey” brings flutes and other woodwinds to the forefront, assuming an innocuous nature and progressing with unabashed determination.
Interesting rhythmic accentuations spice up “Dog Play”, an Ellingtonian wallop that features the enlightened patterns and phrases of clarinetist Billy Drewes, Neumeister’s former bandmate in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
Combining Brazilian rhythmic touches and lyrical clarity, “Locomotion” eschews any type of percussive turmoil to fixate on a vibrantly dancing interplay that astounds. This piece, composed in 1995 and previously recorded for the Jazz Big Band Graz record, exudes scented spring breezes with dulcet benevolence and optimistic oceanic textures, featuring delightful saxophone and trombone solos from Dick Oatts and Neumeister, respectively. The title track follows a similar pacifism yet slightly more concentrated in texture.
With an impactful dramatic punch, “New Groove” is buoyed by hi-hat cymbal and a groovy cadence of piano and bass. The tune features the singular verbalization of saxophonist Rich Perry intercalated with orchestral usurpations.
The title “Reflection” was well chosen for a piece that achieves the desired level of symphonic sophistication through beautiful counterpoints delivered in the form of cries, whispers, and hushed murmurs. On the contrary, “Deliberation” is a gently swinging piece propelled by a controlled bass sway plus ticklish brushed drumming, and adorned with non-colliding guitar and piano compings and horn unisons afloat. The improvisers are Mark Gross on alto saxophone and Neumeister on an explicitly verbalized muted trombone.
Leading with a strong musical discernment, Mr. Neumeister harmoniously paints several landscapes using distinct techniques and intensities. Although glancingly evocative of Duke, there’s room for a contemporary attitude, which makes of Wake Up Call a bracing album packed with pleasurable sounds to be discovered.