Street Date: April 21st, 2017
Clean Feed Records
Street Date: May 1st, 2017
Established alto saxophonist, Nick Mazzarella proudly announces the April 21st release of “Signalling” and the May 1st release of “Triangulum”. Mazzarella, who is no stranger to collaborating, has teamed up with cellist Tomeka Reid, and has chosen to follow in the footsteps of Julius Hemphill and Abdul Wadud to present a collection of saxophone/ cello duets, titled “Signalling”. Mazzarella has also developed and honed “The Meridian Trio”, to deliver their debut album “Triangulum”. Mazzarella’s regular performances throughout the jazz-laden city of Chicago represent an aesthetically unique augmentation to the city’s rich jazz and improvised music culture, and it is through this consistent presence on the Chicago music scene, that Mazzarella has developed himself into a veteran of both variety and virtuosity.
Nessa Records is proud to celebrate their semi centennial year in business, with the release of “Signalling”, an album which presents its fortunate listeners with a collection of duets between two of the leading lights on the Chicago music scene during the past decade, Nick Mazzarella and Tomeka Reid. This record showcases both of these musician’s incredibly deft musicality and produces an intensely expressionistic and dialogical 40 mins of music.
Nick Mazzarella and Tomeka Reid had worked together on various projects around Chicago for several years, but it was not until three years ago that they began discussing and exploring the idea of recording as a duet. The core genesis to this recording project lay in their mutual admiration for the music of saxophonist Julius Hemphill and cellist Abdul Wadud. For Reid, Wadud, being one of the master musicians of the 1970’s re-structuralism, had been an icon of hers for years, evidenced by the music she wrote for him and the homage she paid to him at her string festival. With the inspiration to this album set in stone, the duo then set out their pre-production plan. It was somewhat informal, Mazzarella recalls, spaced out over the course of many months. During this time, the duo listened to records both together and separately, continuously discussing ideas and concepts to explore and improvise upon. They took time and made a solid effort to create the relevant and perfect aesthetic. Inspirations during this process included Arthur Blythe and Roscoe Mitchell in addition to Hemphill and Wadud. When the pair were finally content and sure of the sound they were striving to produce, they began to record, and incredibly, recorded an hour and forty five minutes of improvisations in one session in April 2015. They then selected the best sections of those improvisations and organized them into a nine track program of about forty minutes.
This recording was an opportunity for both musicians to showcase their individual strengths and skills, but above all, it is a beautiful demonstration of how both musicians - colleagues - compliment each other so perfectly. They have a certain mutuality, nuance and restraint with each other, that supports the other to express themselves as they need to. As John Corbett notes:
“Signaling is just the right amount of expressionistic to do what they need to do.”
Both musicians are melodic players, but each has their own specifically unique attributes that can act as either a support to the other or provide an unanticipated turn, that unfurls a new path for improvisation. With Reid, she will take things in an unexpected direction, assume a rhythmic role and find an idea to place on the communal table to then explore and extrapolate as a duo. Mazzarella, also a melodist, can play blazingly fast, as on the most conventionally expressionistic track, “Insterstices,” and discover new versions of a melody, varying tonal character, but with extreme subtlety.
Just as this duo strives to exchange creative energies, ideas and concepts with each other, “The Meridian Trio”, as hinted at in their title, holds this same value at the core of their ensemble. As Mazzarella explains:
“In Eastern medicine, a meridian is a pathway for life-energy, but it’s also a line which divides the eastern and western hemispheres - I see the Meridian Trio as a group that explores the “inside” and “outside” hemispheres of creative music. We want our music to be a conduit to exchange creative energies between ourselves and our audience.”
However, the word “Meridian” can also be defined as a highpoint. As each of “The Meridian Trio’s” bandmembers are now at a point in their career where they are surely recognised as musical titans, one could regard this ensemble as a highpoint of Chicago’s music scene. “Triangulum”, which will be released by Clean Feed Records on May 1st, hears Mazzarella teaming up with contra-bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Jeremy Cunningham. Although each of these musicians are in steady demand as sidemen, they have played the role of bandleaders of their own respected ensembles, and now together, form a solid union of musical genius, providing each other with virtuosity, sensitivity and inventiveness, through which Mazzarella’s compositions can emerge.
The Meridian Trio was born in 2014, through a weekly residency at The Honky Tonk BBQ restaurant in Pilsen, Chicago. Mazzarella chose bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Jeremy Cunningham to form this trio, as he knew and believed that these two esteemed musicians were as capable as himself to move in many musical directions. From maintaining the traditional approach of timekeeping and accompaniment to striving to make the music blossom and move to unknown areas, Mazzarella knew that this trio would be the one to bring his compositions to life. This weekly engagement at The Honky Tonk became a workshop for the trio to find focus, to experiment approaches and to improvise upon common ideas. They began by performing their collective repertoire of jazz standards, and then, when the time was right, Mazzarella introduced a collection of more challenging material. Now, inspired by the possibilities of the journey this trio could take music upon, he decided to roll with it and began to utilise this newly discovered open terrain to compose original material specifically for a trio to workshop and perform. Here began the composition of “Triangulum”. Following on from their residency at The Honky Tonk, Mazzarella, Ulery and Cunningham then secured a residency at The Whistler, Chicago, where they performed two sets every week. The music on “Triangulum” comes as a combined product of the music workshopped at The Honky Tonk and the recordings they took at The Whistler. As Mazzarella proudly explains:
“These live recordings capture the trio at the culmination of two years of growth and development.”
“Triangulum” presents its listeners with a wide, simply startling variety, and as a result acts as a fantastic showcase for Mazzarella’s virtuosity. On the title track, during the saxophonist’s solo, one can detect a strong influence from Mazzarella’s fellow Chicago-based altoist, Greg Ward. However, this record is not just a showcase for Mazzarella, as Cunningham so elegantly proves during his drum cadenza which brings this track to a close.
“Ringdown”, through its overall composition and its melodic improvisation, reveals Nick’s love for the blues. Through the trio’s soulful interplay, this track exhibits a deep-groove, post-Coltrane vibe.
Another track which also hints at Mazzarella’s blues admiration is “Witch Hazel”. Before settling into variant minor blues, the music moves in and out of different meters with ease for the melody, which overall, is beautifully expressive and demonstrates each of these musician’s wide versatility. Alongside Mazzarella’s lyrical and swinging sax solo, Ulery’s bass can be described as passionate and imaginative.
Nick Mazzarella regards both the collaboration with Tomeka Reid and with the gentlemen of “The Meridian Trio” as two of “the most fruitful collaborations” that he has been apart of to date. As he himself explains, both collaborations reflect his background in free improvisation and modern jazz and his interest in synthesizing both traditions in his playing. While the duets on “Signalling” display complete improvisation, inspired by 1970’s avant garde, the compositions on “Triangulum”, which also serve as source material for improvisation, draw from traditions of both avant garde and modern jazz. As Mazzarella notes:
“Both albums reflect my interest in merging free improvisation with tonal elements such as interval-based improvisation, modalism, and the blues.”
"Mazzarella and Reid capture their spirit well on the opening track here, but as the album goes on they reveal that they’ve got plenty of their own ideas, too." Read the full feature here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"It is a delight to hear the spirit of some of the most formative years of avant-garde jazz advanced with such skill and reverence by these two outstanding improvisers." Read the full review here.
BIRD IS THE WORM
"Both familiar and strange, the music has a universal nature, tied to no decade and yet tied to all, where a heartfelt melodic voicing and a wide open path speak to music past and present." Read the full review here.
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"It is one of the finest pieces of chamber music to grace these ears in a very long time." Check out the full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"For a live recording, not only the dynamics of the music but also the ambience of the room is captured nicely." Read the full review here.
"Alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella is one the city’s most focused improvisers, a fervent student of jazz history and a staunch adherent of avant-garde tradition." Read the full review here.