Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ryan Kisor: Simply Splendid

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

“Kisor has some of the ebullience of the young trumpet masters of hard bop yore … there’s a kind of kindred energy in his playing, and he has quite a personal, immediate sound.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Ryan Kisor has grown into one of the most mature trumpeters of his generation.
- Christopher Hovan

“He’s always developing and playing new things…. He’s a natural. He’s always played music, and he can play whatever he wants to at will.”
- guitarist Peter Bernstein

The Jazz Trumpet Gods must be smiling over Ryan Kisor.

Pops [Louis Armstrong], Harry James, Little Jazz [Roy Eldridge], Dizzy, Miles, Lee, Freddie and Woody are all looking down with pleasure at the trumpet stylings of this fiery, young trumpeter.

Ryan’s got it all: legit tone; superb technique; juice and energy in his solos.

Plus, with Ryan, the old movie title applies: "With Six You Get Egg Rolls” in the sense that he’s always in the company of today’s finest Jazz musicians be it saxophonists Chris Potter, Grant Stewart and Eric Alexander, pianists Peter Zak and Mike LeDonne, bassists John Webber and James Genus or drummers Gene Jackson, Willie Jones III and Gregory Hutchinson.

But the musical format that Ryan really shines in is an organ Jazz format involving guitarist Peter Bernstein, Hammond B-3 Organist Sam Yahel and either Willie Jones III or Gregory Hutchinson on drums.

Since he won the prize at the Thelonious Monk competition in 1990 at the ripe old age of seventeen [17], Ryan has kept on getting better and better.

To my ears, he has developed more of a command of the instrument in the intervening years, a bigger and brighter sound and improvised ideas that come so fast and furious that he’s barely able to phrase one before the others come flowing through the horn.

Wow! Can this guy bring it.

Some forms of Jazz, most notably Muscle Jazz [think Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers], are best kept as the province of the young. To play them at a high level and consistently, you need the stamina and the vigor to make it happen again and again.

This is not to take anything away from older players as they would be among the first to admit that the passion and the power of youth allow for a different approach to making the music.

During the earlier years. it’s not about savvy and slickness, but more about the adventure of exploring the new and different and a pell-mell rush into the unknown; both of which require strength and endurance.

All too often, what is lacking for the young players is an environment of knowledge and experience in which to hone their art.

Fortunately, this has not been the case with Ryan as, from a very early age, he has been able to participate in some of the great Jazz ensembles such as the Gil Evans Jazz Orchestra, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band under the leadership of John Faddis, one of the great Jazz lead and solo trumpet players on today’s Jazz scene.

Here’s more about Ryan’s background and what his colleagues think of his playing from Ted Panken’s insert notes to the Battle Cry CD [Criss Cross 1145]:

“Ryan Kisor, 24 years old, a man of few words, makes heads turn when he puts the trumpet to his lips. Veteran of two Columbia recordings by age 20, Kisor has spent recent years smack in the New York City mix, honing his craft.

He reads flyspecks, as the saying goes, and he's played with the Mingus Big Band, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Vanguard Orchestra among others.

He's much in demand for gigs with New York's finest young improvisers in venues all around the city. Those include organist Sam Yahel, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Brian Blade, who match Kisor idea for idea, phrase for phrase on the trumpeter's Criss-Cross debut and first recording since 1993, Battle Cry.

Battle Cry showcases a young master on fire. Kisor articulates with tremendous authority through the entire range of the trumpet. He's internalized the lexicon of styles on his instrument (Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, Blue Mitchell and Kenny Dorham come to mind) so thoroughly that he's not beholden stylistically to anyone. 

For all his virtuosity, he's an egoless improviser with a seemingly instinctive sense of proportion, in total synch with the ensemble.

Let Kisor's peers sing his praises. “Natural’ is the trope of choice.

‘Ryan is an incredible musician,’ comments the 26-year-old Yahel, who has employed Kisor and tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander as his front line in quartets for several years at Augie's and Smalls in Manhattan, gestation points for much good music in the '90s.

‘He's at a level of musicianship where nothing is lacking, so talented that he's able to do anything.  He can play lead in a big band, sub for the lead and read the part down, then turn around, go to the jazz gig, sound fabulous on the jazz tunes.  His ears are so great that he's able to react to what you do, or maybe lead you a little bit, as soon as he hears you do it - he's always listening. Though a record is a little more cautious than a live performance by nature, this is a very interactive date. Ryan's always un-self-conscious, very natural, playing in the moment.’

‘He's always developing and playing new things,’ cosigns 30-year-old New York City native Bernstein, leader of four Criss-Cross sessions, who's played with Kisor since the trumpet prodigy arrived in New York in 1992. ‘He's a natural. He's always played music, and he can play whatever he wants to at will.  He isn't bogged down with a lot of worries about the instrument, or what kind of player to be, or what concept to follow. He's flexible, and he can go a lot of different directions, wherever the music goes. Not that it comes easy for him; he's definitely worked hard. But he understands music on a highly intuitive level.’ ….

‘Ryan plays standards in a very fresh way,’ Yahel continues. ‘He knows the music so well that a standard becomes just another vehicle for him to express himself, for lack of a better phrase. Some people bring agendas to their playing, with an attitude like 'I'm going to play modal on this tune, then here I'll play another way, and another way on this standard.' Ryan has no agenda.  He plays with fire. All his musical influences come out at all times.’

Intended or not, the title Battle Cry works metaphorically on several levels.  It comments on Kisor's joy at taming his intractable instrument to earn a hard-won virtuosity. It notes the improviser's struggle to remain focused on playing from the heart in a world increasingly given to concept albums and image marketing.

Battle Cry is an early salvo, foreshadowing what undoubtedly will be lives of incessantly creative music-making by all its participants.”

February 22, 1998.”

To help you better familiarize yourself with the sound of Ryan’s music, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles with the assistance of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD, has developed the following two, videos . Both feature Ryan along with guitarist Peter Bernstein and organist Sam Yahel.

The audio track on the first video is Lee Morgan’s Mr. Kenyatta with Willie Jones III on drums while the video tribute to Woodies has Gregory Hutchinson on drums with Ryan, Peter and Sam on the standard, Candy.

Ryan’s earlier CDs are available directly through Criss Cross Records and his recordings on other labels can be located and purchased through online retailers.

One hears often these days from Jazz fans that there isn’t enough “new” music being issued on recordings. An investment of time and available funds in the music of Ryan Kisor and his young friends might correct that view while providing hours of listening enjoyment.

By comparison to any stage of Jazz’s development, Ryan Kisor is the real deal.

Have a listen to hear why the Jazz trumpet Gods are smiling.