‘Stomping Off From Greenwood’ by Greg Ward Review
The saxophonist’s Rogue’s Parade ensemble reveals its invigorating rapport on a new album.
With the aim of furthering his jazz career, alto saxophonist Greg Ward moved from Chicago to New York 10 years ago. He accomplished his objective by returning to the Windy City in 2015.
Since resettling in Chicago, Mr. Ward has released two superb recordings: “Touch My Beloved’s Thought” (Greenleaf, 2016) and “Stomping Off From Greenwood” (Greenleaf), which was released last week. They are strikingly ambitious but contrasting recordings. “Touch” documented a concert of large ensemble music inspired by the Charles Mingus classic “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” (Impulse!, 1963) and seemed like an especially good fit for Mr. Ward’s musical personality. His alto has a big broad tone, at times reminiscent of the bluesy tenor saxophones that came from Chicago in the late ’50s and early ’60s. In addition, since 2006, Mr. Ward has been a member of People, Places and Things, a quartet led by drummer Mike Reed that draws some of its inspiration from music of that era.
“Stomping” pursues a different path. On returning to Chicago, Mr. Ward took up a weekly residency at Whistler, part of an emerging music scene in the Logan Square area, and performed with an unusual ensemble that he called Rogue’s Parade, a quintet with drummer Quin Kirchner, bassist Matt Ulery and two guitarists, Matt Gold and Dave Miller. Mr. Ward told the Chicago Tribune last week that the gig gave him an opportunity he lacked in New York, a chance to play regularly with the same musicians.
The rapport they developed is evident from the opening bursts of the new recording. The guitars easily tangle and interweave, riffs arise during solos, Mr. Kirchner relentlessly pushes the music forward. It’s music that feels lived in rather than just rehearsed and recorded. The early songs recall the energetic sounds of early ’70s jazz-rock fusion, with its improvisational fury and voracious attack. Mr. Ward’s sound is different, too—higher, leaner and less gruff in tone, but assertive in its precision and unison playing with the guitars. The tempo slows toward the middle of the nine-track, hourlong program, and the music becomes looser, textural and redolent of wide-open spaces. It’s as if mountains and rivers are inspiring the music as much as the metropolises that the saxophonist has called home.
Rogue Parade’s style is best illustrated by its rendition of the Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish evergreen “Stardust.” Introduced by pinging guitars and played at a slightly faster tempo than classic versions such as Nat King Cole’s, it is muscular yet wistful. The force of the two guitars is reminiscent of two other recent recordings that employ a similar lineup, “Starebaby” (Pi) from drummer Dan Weiss and “Superette” (Royal Potato Family) from bassist Chris Lightcap.
Mr. Ward, who is 36 years old, was born in Peoria, Ill. While attending Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, he often traveled to Chicago to jam there. He’s also worked in other genres, composing music for the International Contemporary Ensemble and Peoria Ballet as well as performing with the Chicago-based instrumental rock group Tortoise and the alternative hip hop project Prefuse 73. When not on tour with either leader or sideman work, Mr. Ward hosts a jam session at the Hungry Brain, a club not far from Whistler, cementing his role in the Chicago music scene.
—Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.