Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Paul Brusger - "Waiting for the Next Trane"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Today - October 8, 2014 - is the release date of bassist, composer and arranger Paul Brusger's latest CD on Nils Winther's venerable Steeplechase label.

Entitled Waiting for the Next Trane [SCCD 33115] it features Gary Smulyan on baritone sax, Mike LeDonne on piano and Louis Hayes on drums along with more of Paul's inventive, hard-bop inflected, original compositions. If you like the music of Horace Silver, Sonny Clark and Hank Mobley, then you will feel right at home with Paul's writing.

Paul kindly asked me to put together some insert notes for the CD and I thought you might enjoy reading them, too.

"Musicians are often better known through the company they keep and bassist Paul Brusger keeps very good company.

To drop a few names - trumpet players Valery Ponomarev, John Swana, baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber and pianists Dado Moroni, Hod O’Brien and John Hicks - all have played on Paul’s previous recordings.

Paul’s major influence as a bassist was the late, great Paul Chambers and one can also hear echoes of “Mr. P.C.” and that of bassists Oscar Pettiford, Wilbur Ware and Doug Watkins in the way he lays down his bass lines and in the notes he chooses to frame the chords.

Paul is also a gifted composer who writes in a style that could be called “Brusger’s Bop” as his Jazz compositions are written in the straight-ahead, hard-bop style often associated with Tadd Dameron, Horace Silver, Gigi Gryce and Sonny Clark.

When combined, all of these ingredients – working with first-rate musicians, being influenced by one of the great Jazz bassist and a writing style that is closely patterned after the style of legendary Jazz composers - form a larger context for a visit with the music of Paul Brusger.

Paul is the sum of all these parts: he plays well, associates himself with exceptional musicians who all get to play the intriguing and interesting music that he has composed.

These unifying threads all come together once more on Waiting for The Next Trane.

On his first outing for the legendary Steeplechase label, Paul continues to put himself in good musical company, this time with the musical talents of baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, pianist Mike LeDonne and drummer Louis Hayes.

Gary plays the baritone saxophone with verve, vigor and vitality. He is a risk-taker. Gary expresses what he hears in his head and feels in his heart, not always an easy thing to do when you have to take a deep breath and blow it through the equivalent of a compressed central plumbing system to make music.

But that's the nature of Jazz: overcoming the technical problems of playing an instrument while at the same time creating interesting melodies on the spot.

You can't take anything back that you've just put out there. There's is no safety net.

The Act of Creation is rarely seen for what it really is - An Act of Courage.

And no one on today's Jazz scene has more sang-froid than Gary Smulyan.

Gary’s sound on baritone sax is very reminiscent of that of the late, Pepper Adams. But while Pepper is certainly a point of departure for him, Smulyan has moved well-beyond Adams’ influence and has established his own style on the instrument, one that also displays a considerable and very advanced technique.

If truth be told, as much as I enjoy Gary Smulyan’s playing, I have to “take it in small doses” as he puts so many ideas into his improvisations and swings so hard all the time that he [figuratively] wears me out.  The marvel is that he doesn't wear himself out!

Quite the contrary, it seems, as each in-person performance or recording is better than the previous one. Gary’s work continually grows in stature and complexity; signs of a mature artist at work.

There appears to be no limits to his artistic creativeness; he’s a veritable musical fountain from which well-constructed phrases and lines come bubbling forth to form chorus-upon-chorus of interesting solos.

All this imaginative energy no doubt stems from his passion for playing Jazz, a zeal that apparently knows no bounds.

Like Paul Brusger, pianist Mike LeDonne is an extremely skillful composer, whose services have been in such great demand that he has appeared on over 50 recordings as a leader or as a sideman during the past 25 years.

It’s nice to hear him back at the piano as many of his recent recordings have featured Mike’s exceptional abilities as a Hammond B-3 organist.

Over the years, Mike has studied with fabled Jazz pianists Jaki Byard and Barry Harris while checking out major piano stylists like Teddy Wilson, Al Haig, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Ray Bryant and Cedar Walton in some of the smaller, more intimate clubs when he first arrived on the New York Jazz scene.

In the introduction to a 2009 interview with Mike for, Thomas Pena wrote:

“What a career it’s been for Mike. Speaking to him is like taking a crash course in the history of Jazz. It seems that he has performed, recorded, and/or rubbed elbows with everyone in the world of jazz at one time or another.”

The list of Jazz luminaries with whom Mike has worked includes Benny Golson, Milt Jackson, and Scott Robinson and, more recently: Eric Alexander, Wycliffe Gordon, Jim Snidero and five recordings under Gary Smulyan’s leadership.

Mike also commented in the 2009 interview: “I feel good. I still want to improve, and I wanted to get to another level. There are always guys that you listen to, guys like McCoy Tyner and say, ‘Wow! I would like to be able to play like that…..’”

Judging by his work on this CD, it sounds like all of Mike’s wishes about improving and getting to another level have been granted, including the one about McCoy Tyner because in some of his soloing, McCoy’s influence is very apparent.

And what more can be said about Louis Hayes - Paul’s choice for the drum chair on this date? I’ve lost count of the number of memorable groups Louis has worked with and recordings that he has appeared on over the last half century including his long associations with Cannonball Adderley, Horace Silver and Oscar Peterson.

His profile on contains the following description of his gifts:

“For more than fifty years, Hayes has been a catalyst for energetic unrelenting swing in self-led bands, as well as, in those whose respective leaders reads like an encyclopedia of straight-ahead, post-bop modern Jazz. ….

With so much activity in his past, Louis could easily rest comfortably on his laurels. But being a forward thinker and doer, Hayes operates in the present with his current group boasting some of the cream of the recent crop of Jazz artists. Louis Hayes possess and embarrassment of riches. His story, still being told, contains a glorious past, a vibrant present and an ever promising future.”

Bassist, Chuck Israels once described the relationship he wanted to achieve when working with a drummer this way:

"When I listen to the drummer and the bass player together, I like to hear wedding bells. You play every beat in complete rhythmic unity with the drummer, thousands upon thousands of notes together, night after night after night. If it’s working, it brings you very close. It’s a kind of emotional empathy that you develop very quickly. The relationship is very intimate.”

Paul and Louis develop such a marriage between bassist and drummer on this outing and it represents another testimony to Louis adaptability and flexibility as a masterful musician.

Whatever the setting, Louis just makes it happen.

The music on this recording is made up of eight originals by Paul and a beautiful rendition of Quincy Jones’ Quintessence. Listeners often wonder what the source of inspiration is for original compositions, but rarely get the chance to ask the composer where the music comes from. With this in mind, I asked Paul if he would make some comments about each of his tunes.

In a Minor Funk “is simply my take on the kind of groove Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers would come up with.

It’s In There Somewhere “is a play on words on Out of Nowhere. My song uses the same changes and I wrote it in the style of Tadd Dameron and Gigi Gryce, two of my favorites composers.”

When Will You Ever Learn “is aimed at me because sometimes I tend to be too stubborn and looks for a perfection that gets in the way of the music. Like Gary Smulyan is fond of saying: “Jazz has warts.’”

Waiting For The Next Trane “is my tribute to John Coltrane. “Will there be such an influence as great as his ever again?”

Andrea’s Delight “was written for my youngest daughter. It has a pretty melody with a demanding harmonic sequence that descends in a seemingly never-ending spiral of minor thirds.”

“I choose Quincy Jones’ Quintessence for the date because it has a main ingredient that all good music must have - it’s got soul.”

Bird’s In The Yard “is my tribute to Charlie Parker, the first and foremost influence in all of modern Jazz.”

Bringing Home The Silver “is written as a samba because I wanted it to be an ideal showcase for the great Louis Hayes who held down the drum chair in Horace Silver’s quintet for many years.”

All But One “is the very first composition that I ever wrote. It is spiritual in nature and is meant to convey that we all come from different cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds, yet we are all part of this human experience called Life.”

In characterizing Paul’s music for Definitely, a compact disc that he released on his Philology label [W733.2] in 2008, Paolo Piangiarelli said:

“This beautiful CD provides tangible, even touching evidence which proves that
the new generation of US young jazzmen respects and loves the great tradition of modern jazz developed in the legendary forties by their ingenious precursors: Bird, Diz, Bud, Monk... Respect, love, but also a conscious practice of getting deep into a music that was - and stays - complex, well-constructed, tough, delicate and powerful, to be handled and checked with the fundamental creativity and technical skills that these guys have.

The band is directed by wonderful bassist Paul Brusger, who draws new melodic lines of charming, intriguing beauty, in which reminiscences of a great past - never to be denied - add new colours and strengthen the impact with the listeners. The musicians' skills can consequently stand out….”

Although the manner of writing has much in common with the modern Jazz of the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, Paul makes the tunes sound fresh through small adjustments to the harmonies, being careful to play them in the right tempos and by creating melodic platforms for Gary and Mike to express their own approach to improvising.

Some guys have a gift for composition and Paul Brusger is one of those guys.

One hears so often these days about Jazz not being what is used to be and that today’s players don’t have anything appealing to offer.

The music on Waiting for The Next Trane is Jazz composed and played at the highest levels of professionalism and artistic expression by Gary, Mike, Paul and Louis.

If this recording is any indication, Jazz is in good hands as it goes forward into the 21st century."

-Steve Cerra

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