Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs

ALEX CLOUGH – “NEAR, FAR, BEYOND” Independent Label

Alex Cough, piano/composer; John Tate, bass; Jay Sawyer, drums; Steve Kortyka, tenor saxophone; David Smith, trumpet/flugelhorn.

Pianist, Alex Clough, has composed every song on this project. This is his fledgling record release, after spending the last decade performing as a professional musician. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Alex studied both drums and piano as a youth. In high school, he was a member of the All City Concert Band and NJPAC’s prestigious “Jazz for Teens Program.” In college, he pursued a B.A. from Tufts University in Economics and International Relations. Later, he received an M.M. from SUNY Purchase in Jazz Studies. His piano and keyboard talents have led him to perform in most of the New York City Jazz hot spots, as well as Lincoln Center, Rockwood Musical Hall and he served as musical director for the Nightingale Jazz Band. Showing his diverse accompaniment qualities, he played with opera vocalist, Marie-Claire Giraud. He’s also played for dancers, namely the Mark Morris Dance Group, and as a sideman, Clough has honed his craft by diving into a variety of styles and cultures ranging from instrumental jazz to burlesque. He’s played Hip-Hop gigs and even Iranian punk rock. So, I wondered what this premier work of his original music would sound like.

Enlisting two horns, that join his very competent rhythm section, “Swirl” is the first song that circles off this compact disc. I am intrigued. Alex Clough is a strong composer with an even stronger jazz sensibility. Grounded by a one-note, punctuated bass line, he establishes the groove. His piano solo plays tag with the bass player, who is quite melodic in his own right. As the song progresses, the bass line dances to the changes as John Tate locks in the rhythm with drummer, Jay Sawyer. Alex Clough is one of those free style, fluid players who improvises with ease and comps behind the other soloists with precision. I get all of this from the very first song. David Smith is brilliant on trumpet and creates a strong platform for Steve Kortyka to come forward on his tenor sax, spread wings and fly.

Clough is straight-ahead and non-apologetic on this recording. Clough has a light, passionate touch on the piano, especially noticeable when he plays “Shore Road.” On this second cut, John Tate is extremely melodic during his bass solo. The third number titled, “Red Shades” is a funk jazz tune, reminiscent of the way the great Eddie Harris used to groove. Cut #4 features horn lines thick with harmony with the piano lines tastefully mirroring them. The bass and trumpet set the mood. This arrangement drops the other instruments out for a short while and it works to grab the attention and spotlight David Smith, who is quite a superb trumpet and flugelhorn player.

This entire album of music is beautifully produced and shows the wonderful composition skills of Alex Clough, as well as spotlighting his visceral excellence on piano.

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