After a stint in New York, saxophonist Greg Ward was lured home to Chicago in 2016 by a project based on Charles Mingus‘s The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (Impulse! Records, 1963). Ward’s new vision of this record was widely acclaimed, not least for its performance with a ballet company, as Mingus had desired.
Around this time Ward began a jamming fellowship, aimed at “those who don’t hate, but appreciate.” Whether this hate/appreciate referred to race relations or music is unclear. But what seems obvious is Ward’s increasing appeal for newcomers to modern jazz.
Rogue Parade’s Stomping Off From Greenwood is a venture featuring guitarists Matt Gold and Dave Miller, along with Chicago stalwarts Matt Ulery (bass) and Quin Kirchner (drums). The album artwork evokes a world of graffiti and shabby chic apartments, with all the thrill of urban bohemia. (Greenwood is a street on the south side of Chicago, where Ward lived when he returned to town). And from the outset, on “Metropolis,” Kirchner’s drum juggling is like a soundtrack of citified footsteps. The guitars float by, one muted and one fluent, bringing a chilled harmony. Ward makes a languid entrance like someone who’s blown in late off the sidewalk, smiling his apologies.
Never does the simplified feel more effective than in Ward’s hands. Where others let their musical taps whistle and splutter, he knows when to let his faucet drip-drop with pure melody. The guitarist Ryley Walker refers to this process as letting the brain drain out. Even as life’s rhythms scurry by, Ward’s tuneful touch remains unhurried, like a free spirit among go-getters.
More seductive phrasing comes on “Excerpt 1,” but now the percussion has turned ceremonial. “The Contender” is a union of frolicsome bass, nimble guitars and Ward’s jittery solos, reaching a braying climax. Next comes “The Fourth Reverie” like a healing psalm from the streets. The company toots a single note on “Let Him Live,” which unfurls into a spinning vamp; Kirchner burrows deep into his kit, then guitars and sax ping a sing-song phrase. Ulery scuttles across his bass during “Black Woods” until Ward finds a hooky chorus he’s happy to repeat and we’re pleased to receive.
A cover of Hoagy Carmichael‘s “Stardust” dresses Ward in top hat and tails, but Kirchner adds a more propulsive beat than, say, Gerry Mulligan‘s version. “Pitch Black Promenade” owns a sense of wandering darkly until there’s an acceptance of shadows. Finally, guitars trill over a dusky drone and Kirchner’s muffled drums on “Sundown” as Ward plays with great stealth, quietly investigating.
Ward was eighteen when he emailed Branford Marsalis for advice. Marsalis replied, “You don’t find your voice. It finds you.” Whatever mouthpiece has found a home in Greg Ward, it exists for those who don’t hate, but appreciate. Stomping Off From Greenwood sings with a depth of harmony to crack the hardest heart.