Judging by the cover of his new recording, "Northern Spy" (Stereoscopic), one realizes the title relates more to his Canadian heritage (with a nod to James Bond) than to the apple of the same name. It's his third trio recording, the first being his 2004 debut "Outside Sources" and the second a 2014 date co-led with saxophonist Peter Van Huffel, "Boom Crane." Here, he leads a group with fellow Canadian Michael Blake (tenor saxophone) and Jeremy "Bean" Clemons (drums). Right from the opening notes of "Theme for a Blind Man", it's evident this will be yet another change of direction for the bassist. This music has its roots planted in the blues Instead of a slide guitar, there is the thick toned bass notes behind the moaning voice and the heavy breathing of the saxophone. "Essex House" is a slow blues with Blake's swaggering tenor pushed forward by the throbbing bass and steady drums. In the quieter moments, one can hear the basic blues patterns. "An Otis Theme on Curtis Changes" gives its influences in the title and features serious "testifying" from Blake. The very slow take of Henry Mancini's "The Days of Wine and Roses" is quite powerful as well, sad but defiant as befits the storyline of the movie.
"Northern Spy" is an aural treat, with strong playing, heady compositions and and "in-your-face" presentation. Michael Bates has such a "deep" tone, his notes seem to grab your chest to say "pay attention" - his cohorts also give their best, making this album a tasty addition to your library. For more information, go to outsidesources.org.
Now, he has a debut CD. "And Now" (Fresh Sound New Talent) features a quintet with the "rising star" guitarist Matthew Stevens, Canadian-born pianist and composer Jamie Reynolds (husband of vocalist Melissa Stylianou), drummer Eric Doob, and alto saxophonist Nick Videen (tenor saxophonist Travis LaPlante appears on one track). The program concentrates more on the bassist's compositions (6 originals plus the traditional "All My Trials") than on his prowess as a soloist. To his credit, the album starts with the lovely ballad "In The Early Autumn" - he does not play his first note until after the piano introduction and the acoustic guitar reading of the theme (over 90 seconds into the song). He's careful to make sure that one fully hears the melody before Stevens' striking solo. Oien opens the next track, "Skol", with a forceful Mingus-like solo before Doob enters with a skipping beat. Videen's slow alto sax lines are a smart counterpoint to the rousing rhythm section (no piano or guitar on this track). The alto solo eventually picks up steam which pushes Doob to react in kind.
One of the more impressive aspects of the music is how the musicians moved around inside the pieces. "Smile This Mile" has a lovely melody played by Videen, pushed along by the rich piano chords until Reynolds steps out. He does not rush, his phrases flowing like a leaf in the wind while Doob and Oien serve as both musical and emotional counterpoint. The alto sax solo starts in the same "mood" before going in a more playful direction, dancing around the chords and the active drums.
"And Now" close with a solo bass reading of "All My Trials" - as he does throughout the album in his supportive role, Michael Oien shows a melodic side. One hears traces of Charlie Haden, Charles Mingus, and Dave Holland in his assertive yet tasteful journey through the piece. His debut as a leader is impactful, especially in his desire to make this a "group" effort, to showcase the work of saxophonist Nick Videen and to give both Jamie Reynolds and Matt Stevens major roles in telling his stories. Kudos to Eric Doob in his capacity as sparkplug for the music and battery mate to the leader's rhythmic conception. Overall, a splendid introduction to the music and vision of Michael Oien.
For more information, go to michaeloien.com.
|art by Jeffrey Bishop|
What else has remained from the first effort is the impressive drive in the songs, the intelligent interactions of the musicians and the playful melodies the bassist creates for the quartet. Greg Ward impresses with his facility and bright tone, Tom Chang is both fiery and introspective, and Christian Coleman displays power and subtlety throughout. "Lumpy's Blues" is just that, a hard-rocking blues with an odd meter and a smoking guitar solo. The leader gets to step out, displaying a big tone akin to that of Dave Holland. "Bell Curve" is a sweet ballad with classical overtones - Ward's expressive alto phrases reach into the higher registers of the alto saxophone. He has a tone not unlike Arthur Blythe in that one can hear the influence of the blues in the way he shapes his notes and how he "tells a story" in his solos. Hear how he moans in the background during the early moments of "Beautiful/Furious" eventually taking over the melody from the bass. His solo takes its energy from Coleman's intense drumming. Chang's fine guitar playing walks a line between jazz, rock and blues. When he lets loose over the active rhythm section on "Breathing Room" and "Pterofractal", all genres blur into his "attack mode" attitude. Yet, his soft opening lines and continuing counterpoint on "Bell Curve" is spare yet vital to the movement of the piece. The mesmerizing back-and-forth riffing in the early part of the title track gets one's attention by creating the tension in tandem with the insistent bass note underneath the melody line played by Ward. The structure of the piece changes after the first part of the saxophone solo, picking up in intensity as the guitarist's rapid-fire phrases bob and weave in the mix. His solo near the end is refreshingly intense fueled by the drummer's insistent forward motion.
The music and performances on "Land Grab" will grab you, make you sit up and pay attention, make you want to come back again and again to hear its kaleidoscope of sounds. Sam Trapchak stands at the center of this music, his compositions and musicianship creating a joyful and adventurous listening experience.
For more information, go to samtrapchak.com.