Although it’s official release date is not until 1/11/19, it’s been impossible keep the new album by alto saxophonist Greg Ward out of the CD player. The full title “Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade: Stompin’ Off From Greenwood” (Greenleaf Music) tells the listener much about this album.  One – this is a new group for Ward. Consisting of two electric guitars (Matt Gold and Dave Miller) plus the splendid rhythm section of Matt Ulery (bass, electric bass) and Quin Kirchner (drums), the music they make is notable for its irresistible forward motion and Ward’s delightful melodic flow.  Two – this is the second album Ward has made since his return to Chicago and has all the earmarks of the newer music from the Windy City.  The blend of funk, r’n’b, hip hop rhythms, jazz, and exciting interactions may remind some of Tortoise and Ornate Coleman’s Prime Times but there are traces of the world-music adventuresome attitude of Makaya McCraven as well.

Chicago Reader

Since I’ve been listening to this music without paying attention to song titles (all songs are by Ward save for Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust“), I would recommend you do the same.  On initial listenings, listen for how the rhythm section powers this music (Kirchner’s blend of busy cymbals and active snare work is quite exciting while Ulery not only keeps the bottom solid but engages with Ward playing subtle counterpoint). Ward’s alto tone can be so sweet (especially in the higher registers) but there’s power in his melodic lines.  It takes a few times through to hear the guitarists – initially, it seems as both are there for the various colors they create but they also provide melodic introductions and the occasional solo. Their sound is not distorted yet the effects they use are often subtle and powerful.  Note the beginning of the album’s final track (people who buy the download from Greenleaf get a bonus final track) – “Sundown” is driven by both guitars with Ward giving support.  The energy level continues to rise from the onset and is overwhelming by the close. There are several ballads. One is the generously melodic “Pitch Black“, the softness of the alto and the rhythm guitar rising above the clatter of Kirchner’s percussion and Ulery’s solid bass lines.  Still, as the piece comes to a close, the intensity picks up still the band does not lose its melodic way.

Go back to the beginning, to the high-powered “Metropolis“, and you’ll really hear how all the elements of this music come together to make a unified statement.  How the melodies and counter-melodies, how the rhythms from the drums and guitars push the music, and how you can hum many of these melodies (even if you can’t keep up at times).  Music often gives me hope for the future – “Stompin’ Off From Greenwood” makes me smile, bounce my feet, challenges me to listen with fresh ears, opening up to the myriad possibilities in this music, making me wish I was in the audience as the band developed this program leading uptown the recording.

Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade” is the latest installment in the musician’s maturity as a composer and bandleader. He’s been busy since returning to Chicago, adding his saxophone to many different ensembles and recordings (including 2018’s Benje Daneman’s Searchparty “Light in the Darkness“). Greg Ward is making great strides and we are lucky to be part of the experience!

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Here’s an action-packed tune:

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