Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Martin Wind Quartet - "My Astorian Queen"

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Thanks to the kindness and generosity of many nice people associated with the business of Jazz media relations, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles is the recipient of preview copies that help keep it current in terms of what’s happening in today’s music.

We know how hard it is to play this stuff so we don’t pass ourselves off as critics, per se, for fear of offending anyone’s efforts [let alone, doing harm to their livelihood].

Occasionally, something arrives that “speaks to us” and we enjoy sharing that with you via a feature on these pages.

Such was the case with the recent arrival of bassist’s Martin Wind’s My Astorian Queen which released on on 12 November 2021 and features him with pianist Bill Mays, drummer Matt Wilson and multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson.

Because it is such a quiet instrument, acoustic string bass is often overlooked in the context of a Jazz group.

During my years as a player, I never had that “luxury” because as a drummer, bass was an instrument that I was closest to - more often than not - literally. But it was really more than that because as the preeminent Jazz bassist Chuck Israels once declared: “Whenever I play, I always expect to hear wedding bells between myself and the drummer.”

With its functions of providing the metronomic pulse and framing the chords, the bass is of course important to all of the other instruments in a Jazz group, but as Chuck states, there’s more to it when it comes to the union of the bass with the drums in a Jazz combo. Quiet though it may be, when there’s friction between bass and drums, there’s hell to pay for all concerned.

From a drummer’s perspective, what I like to hear from a bassist in terms of said “wedding bells” is a big sound right in the center of the beat. The legendary bassist Bill Crow calls this “the heart beat of Jazz.” When the bassist centers the beat, that eliminates the argument of where it is relative to soloists who prefer to play “ahead of the beat,” those who like to play “behind the beat,” etc. It is only the presence of the beat that allows rhythm to be established so while the bass may be a quiet instrument, its function in the making of the music is huge, especially because much of Jazz is never notated [but that’s a subject for another time]. The relationship between the underlying pulse [beat as defined by the bassist] and the rhythms played by Jazz musicians underpins the temporal progress of the music.

As the instrument with the lowest range in the musical system, the bass also has many other responsibilities in terms of determining the harmonic identity of sonorities and thus of harmonic progressions, cadences, modulations, etc.

Having said all of this, when a strong bassist with a bold, clear and distinct sound centers the beat, helps drive the music along with the drummer and correctly chooses and states the bass clef aspect of the chords comes on the scene, he or she is certain to put a smile on the face of a lot of Jazz musicians and, in doing so, find a ready supply of work.

Enter bassist Martin Wind, one of the most competent and compelling players on the instrument that I’ve heard in recent years; someone whose big sound, driving beat and note selection will rekindle memories of many, great modern Jazz bassists, a list too endless to include here.

Martin is the real deal. My only regret as I write this is that he is based on the East Coast and I’m not.

Both Ann Braithwaite and Martin himself offer background information and full descriptions of the music and the musicians on My Astorian Queen in the media release and sleeve notes that accompany the CD, and since they say a lot of the things I wanted to say about Martin and the new recording, I thought I’d share them with “as is.”

Let’s start with Ann’s press release.

“George Gershwin wrote a song for Porgy and Bess called "There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon For New York."

Except for the fact that Martin Wind arrived at the Big Apple exactly 25 years ago by plane a lot of the Gershwin opera's storyline could have been written for him. 

The bassist from Flensburg, Germany has found his version of the American Dream. "I've been living it ever since my arrival in 1996 together with my wife, our two grown-up sons, our dog and the house in the New Jersey suburbs, just outside of the big city." As a matter of fact, he is one of a few German jazz musicians that were able to establish themselves on the New York jazz scene for good. His new album My Astorian Queen is a heartfelt thank you note to "this city and its welcoming artistic community in general, and some very special human beings in particular, that have guided and formed me over the last quarter of a century."

He's referring to the members of his quartet - all veterans of the New York jazz scene. Pianist Bill Mays was impressed by the classically trained bassist when he heard him for the first time at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam in 1992. He started to mentor him as they recorded and toured Europe together with the late drummer Keith Copeland. "Bill used to fax me pages and pages of tunes that he wanted me to learn when I was still living in Cologne."

Wind hadn't even been in New York for 24 hours when Mays' wife at the time, who worked at a hospital, introduced Wind to one of her colleagues. "On my second day in NYC I got to meet my future wife on a blind date - what are the chances?! The first couple of years were incredibly intensive and life-changing, my studies at NYU, the first attempts of making the scene, my marriage to Maria and the birth of our first son, all while living in a cute apartment in Astoria, Queens.

The swinging opener, "Mean What You Say," relates to a magical moment that Wind experienced at the legendary Village Vanguard. "It took several years before I got a chance to play a Monday night with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. While some of the last guests were taking their seats, the rhythm section started to play this great composition by Thad Jones. Already while setting up my gear, I had noticed how unbelievable my instrument sounded in the acoustics of this basement club: warm and chocolatey, yet incredibly clear and defined. That first night with this band was one of those NYC moments that I will never forget. "

While establishing his New York career, Wind took a wide variety of gigs including subbing on major musicals. Those theater jobs inspired him to record "Broadway." "I got to play a dozen or so performances of Webber's 'Phantom of the Opera,' which was not my cup of tea. I much preferred a production of Cole Porter's fabulous 'Kiss me, Kate' with arrangements by Don Sebesky."

Outstanding on this track is Scott Robinson, featured on the mighty bass saxophone. Robinson plays seemingly every reed and brass instrument ever invented, and Wind identifies him as "the voice of my music." Robinson's rehearsal and recording space, which he calls his laboratory, is home to many uncommon instruments such as a bass marimbaphone, a Theremin and the extremely rare contrabass saxophone. "Scott and I share the same birthday, live in the same town AND he brews his own beer! He is an unbelievably spontaneous and sensitive musician who manages to still surprise and deeply move me after all these years of playing music together."

Those who can't get enough of the wonderfully growling sound of the bass saxophone will be happy to discover a short encore somewhere towards the end of the Brazilian song "E Precise Perdoar," which was made famous by Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz.

Wind's third trusted friend and musical partner is drummer Matt Wilson, with whom he has spent more time on the road than with any other musician over the last 20+ years "Matt was one of the first established bandleaders to invite me into his world and accept me as his equal. Because of him I started to believe that I might belong here. His presence is so liberating that you think you can fly -  he welcomes everything you offer so completely that there really isn't such a thing as doing anything 'wrong around him " With the classic Sinatra hit "New York, New York," the two friends close out the album. Their approach is a lot looser than the original: "Matt and I love to use the term 'going into the sandbox.' It means to innocently sit down in the sandbox and to start molding, creating and truly playing with the material - and then react to what is starting to appear in front of you." It seems that this approach is working: "After hearing our take. Bill Mays commented approvingly: 'Man, you almost make me like that song!"

In every sense, this album turned out as a fitting and genuine musical gift to the metropolis and its soulful inhabitants. The compositions narrate some of Wind's personal NY stories, and are presented with song serving, yet unpredictable arrangements.

It all adds up to a fitting tribute to the one person in Wind's life that has made this ongoing musical adventure possible Maria, his "Astorian Queen."”

My Astorian Queen - 25 years on the New York Jazz scene

by Martin Wind

New York has undoubtedly been one, if not THE most exciting and trendsetting global metropolis of the last century and a half. Immigrants from all corners of the world settled here and created a multi-layered cultural fabric in the process. New Yorkers are resilient and witty, improvisational and helpful, and, most of all, toughened by the extremes of traffic, weather, income gap, racial inequalities, and the daily overstimulation of one's senses. This album is a tribute to the many truly extraordinary human beings that I was fortunate enough to meet and share sounds with. 

Among these, the musicians on this album stand out as the three most important musical partners since my move across the Atlantic Ocean. Bill Mays, Scott Robinson and Matthew Wilson: I'm eternally thankful for your friendship, encouragement and the countless lessons you've taught me over the years' And just as important, if not more so, the woman who made it all possible, who's been my best friend for the past 25 years, and who allowed me to live my dream: Maria, my Astorian Queen...

"Mean what you say" -I  will never forget playing with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (former Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band) for the first time. I arrived at the club early, played that first open A note and marveled at how warm, big, and clear my bass sounded. Fortunately, I have been able to play the music of Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely. and others with that incredible band over the years.

"Solitude" -I wrote this piece during the COVID-induced lock-down in the spring of 2020 after a friend had sent me photos of a particular beach on the Flensburg Fjord called "Solitude". Yes, after all those years I still have moments where I get the "Flensburg Blues", when I miss my family, hometown friends and this beautiful area on the Baltic Sea, and not being able to visit for more than a year during the epidemic was extremely difficult. [Flensburg is a city in Germany just below its border with Denmark.]

"Broadway" - Shortly after arriving in New York, I started subbing on a couple of Broadway shows: "Phantom of the Opera" - which is still going strong in its 3rd decade, and a fabulous production of Cole Porter's "Kiss me, Kate". I've always loved this tune AND the way Scott sounds on the "mighty" bass saxophone

"Peace Waltz" - Already an admirer of Bill Mays' work, I got to meet him in Europe in 1991   He obviously had studied all the main jazz piano styles, but what really resonated with me were his beautiful touch and that lyrical, almost impressionistic sensitivity, as demonstrated here on my all-time favorite composition of his.

"E Preciso Perduar" - It was a scholarship by the German Academic Exchange Service that brought me to New York University as a graduate student in August of 1996. After my first semester as a student, I was hired to teach, as well: almost 25 years later I still enjoy working with young musicians from all over the world. One of my recent students, a drummer from Brazil, brought in this great tune by Carlos Coqueijo and Aleivando Luz to play with my ensemble

"Out in P.A." - On September 1, 1995, I arrived in New York for a 5-week visit to learn, if I could see myself living here. On the second day of my stay, I had dinner with Bill Mays, his wife at the time, Thalia and one of her coworkers at New York Hospital named Maria - and this is how I got to meet my wife! A few days later we spent an incredible weekend together at Bill's country home in Shohola, Pennsylvania. Maria and I are still excited whenever we get to visit this magical place. The song also became the title track for the first album that Bill and I recorded together with Matt Wilson in 2000. That session started an incredible musical journey that continues to this day.

"My Astorian Queen" - Maria used to live in a cute apartment in the heart of Astoria, Queens, an originally predominantly Greek neighborhood. When I moved to New York in August of 1996, she offered to share her apartment with me until finding my own place. As I was unpacking my few belongings, we realized that we were both reading the same book: Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" - same publisher, cover, the whole nine yards, and we had never talked about that book before! When I finally moved into my own pad and received a phone line, my number was exactly one digit different from hers - and we are talking area code 718, which covers about 5 million folks who live in the boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Staten Island. We listened to these signs - we were meant for each other!

"There's a boat that's leavin soon for N.Y." - Bill suggested this Gershwin classic for the second trio album together with drummer Keith Copeland in 1994. It seemed appropriate to include it in this selection with Scott showcasing his trumpet playing.

"New York, New York" - A few years ago I put a program together with another Flensburg artist, actress and author Kathanna Putter. We combined short stories by Dorothy Parker and Woody Allen, as well as excerpts from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" with solo bass renditions of related songs such as "Take the A-Train"," Broadway"", and "Moon River.” I usually close the set with this inevitable anthem. Matt, of course, jumped right into the sandbox with me on this one.”

Martin Wind, Teaneck. New Jersey, September 2021

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