With a cover dominated by graffiti-strewn urban imagery, Stomping Off From Greenwood could be taken for a dusty, hour-long exercise in sample-heavy boom-bap. Instead, it’s the debut outing from Greg Ward’s Rogue Parade, a nascent jazz outfit featuring the alto saxophonist joined by fellow Chicagoans, guitarists Matt Gold and Dave Miller, bassist Matt Ulery, and drummer Quin Kirchner. That cover, it turns out, shouldn’t be read as a reference to a specific genre (e.g., hip-hop) so much as a reference to a particular sensibility, one fresh and exciting with ears close to the ground. (Greenwood, by the way, is a street on Chicago’s south side, where Ward lived following a New York stay).
If the band seems particularly on-fire, there are good reasons. After a 2016 performance at The Whistler, Rogue Parade enjoyed a month-long residency at the Chicago club and then struck out on a midwest tour before heading into the studio. The energy level is so charged, it feels as if the momentum generated live transferred directly to the studio. Armed with a bright, smooth tone and agile delivery, Ward’s versatility is well-accounted for, yet while he’s front and center (and the composer of all but one tune plus the arranger) the album plays like a group effort in the fullest sense.
Though nominally Stomping Off From Greenwood is jazz, the label almost feels like a misnomer. Yes, it’s instrumental and there’s soloing, but the rhythms are often anything but traditional. Beyond the distinctive character of the alto sax-and-guitars frontline, it’s Rogue Parade’s propensity for loping rhythms that distinguishes its sound. Interestingly, Ward’s debut Greenleaf set, 2016’s Touch My Beloved’s Thought, focused on the music of Charles Mingus; no such precursor shadows the new release, which seems largely non-derivative. It’s telling that when subjected to an affectionate Rogue Parade treatment, “Stardust” feels more like a Ward tune than one by Hoagy Carmichael.
No better performance argues on the band’s behalf than the blistering opener “Metropolis,” for which Ward drew for inspiration from his time in Chicago and New York. Kirchner kicks things off with a powerful 5/4 groove that serves as a great entry point for chunky, Africa-inflected guitar patterns and Ward’s horn. Two minutes into the piece, the music, bolstered by an anthemic theme, soars ecstatically, after which heavier guitar riffing brings it back to earth. The guitars, while collectively forming a dense web, are differentiated by approach, one focused on melody and the other texture, though it’s ultimately Ward’s rapturous wail you’ll likely center on most (that African vibe also surfaces during the swinging vamp “Let Him Live”). Ulery jumpstarts “The Contender” with a jagged bass line that Kirchner locks into soon after, as does Ward with bold statements. He named the tune with boxing in mind, and certainly there’s some hint of a boxer’s actions in the feints and jabs of the players’ movements and the tune’s angular, almost militaristic rhythms.
Nine cuts in total are presented, many of them thunderous but a few dialed down, a wise move for the way it adds contrast to the recording. The slow, atmospheric exercise “The Fourth Reverie,” for example, calls forth the group’s textural side, the guitarists in particular, whereas “Black Woods” is a sprawling dirge that eventually coalesces into a grooving dynamo. The closest the band gets to a classic jazz performance occurs during “Pitch Black Promenade,” a lyrical exercise featuring sensitive and tasteful contributions by all five.
At the age of eighteen, Ward apparently contacted Branford Marsalis for advice, to which this by-then-established elder replied, “You don’t find your voice. It finds you.” It definitely sounds as if Ward’s found his on Stomping Off From Greenwood, though even he’d be the first to concede that his fourth album will likely be seen as one moment, albeit a memorable one, in a long career. However long Rogue Parade will be around isn’t obviously clear right now, though one hopes future albums will materialize.