Monday, June 12, 2017

Brass: Polished, Burnished, & Modern

Here's a modern take on the brass band concept.  Trumpet, trombone, and tuba plus piano, electric guitar, and drums is the makeup of Rebecca Hennessy's FOG Brass Band. "Two Calls" (self-released) is the Canadian ensemble second release and first full-length album. Based in Toronto, Ms. Hennessy (trumpet, peck horn, baritone horn) is very busy musician leading several groups and playing in several others.  FBB plays music that may remind you, at times, of Charles Ives, the Henry Threadgill Sextett, and Guillermo Klein's Los Gauchos but, really, has quickly developed a sound of its own. This is not a "marching band"  but a group that utilized all of its parts to the utmost.  Kudos to drummer Nico Dann and tuba player Jay Burr as they are the "engineers" that stoke the figures this music creates. Pianist Tania Gill also help keep the music flowing as does guitarist Don Scott.  Rounding out the front line is trombonist Tom Richards.

There are touches of New Orleans brass band music that show up on pieces such as the bluesy "Lagoon" and "Snag", a peppy dance tune that sound inspired by The Meters. But there are also pieces such as the opener "Red Herring" that has such a drive and is the piece most like Mr. Threadgill's music. That's followed by the prayer-like "Horn Lake", an impressionistic work that might have been inspired by walking along the shore in the early morning looking out at the still waters. Listen to the pictures the band creates with just the trumpet, quiet guitar, tape loops and triangle.  3/4s of the way in, the music suddenly falls into a samba-like rhythm and the piece literally dances out.

photo by Michael Fisher
Highlights abound. Guitarist Scott gets to romp his way through the first half of "Kings County Sheriff", soloing over the dancing drums and tuba. There's a touch of Klezmer in the horn melody and at the beginning of Ms. Hennessy's far-ranging solo. Bird songs introduce the title track (and continue for a little bit under the musical introduction); it's a funky, jazzy, dance piece that features strong solos from Richards and Ms. Gill.  There's a playful feel to "Birds For Free", a piece that starts in a Latin style before changing tempo. Listen to how Dann drives this piece, especially under the trumpet and trombone solos.

"Two Calls" closes with the lovely "Why Are You So Sad Booker Little". Not only is that a great title but the piece is a handsome ballad in which all the members of the sextet make fine contributions. The music is quiet, somber, not a celebration of the great trumpeter (1938-1961) as much as an elegy for him, for the promise as well as the maturity one could hear in his recordings.

The contemporary music scene, while not financially breaking new ground, certainly has produced a number for fine young bands and composers.  Rebecca Hennessy's FOG Brass Band covers a wide swath of musical territory over the 48 minutes of "Two Calls" and the journey is very rewarding. This album is not only "fun" to listen to, as brass band music often, but also melodically rewarding and adventurous.

If you find yourself in Toronto on June 29, FOG is playing the Toronto Jazz Festival - to find out more, go to To find out more about Ms. Hennessy and her myriad projects (including the delightful Way North), go to

Take a look and a listen to "Lagoon":

I've been reading about trumpeter and composer Jaimie Branch for the past few years and was excited to see her debut album hit the streets last month. "Fly or Die" (International Anthem) lives up to its name as Ms. Branch takes many chance on the 10-song program that features three other transplanted Chicagoans (cellist Tomeka Reid, drummer Chad Taylor, and bassist Jason Ajemian - like the  trumpeter, all now live in the New York City area).  Ms. Branch has worked in ensembles led by bassist William Parker and saxophonist Matana Roberts as well as with TV On The Radio. Her work exemplifies the AACM tradition, meaning nothing is sacred save for experimentation as well as cliches are forbidden.

photo by Mark Pallman
The program opens with the aptly titled "Jump Off", 16 second of squalling trumpet that leads into Taylor's countdown into "theme 001." One can hear traces of Wadada Leo Smith in Ms. Branch's clarion call and tone. The drummer lays down as irresistible rhythm as Ms. Reid and Ajemian play off each other, plucking, bowing, and creating a storm underneath. Matt Schneider's acoustic guitar shows up at the end, leading into the trancelike "...meanwhile." He plucks, the bassist and cellist play arco, the drummer offers light percussion, and the leader is nowhere to be heard.  She returns on "theme 002", playing muted trumpet over the infectious, dancing drums of Taylor. The West Indian feel continues as the mute is removed and the trumpeter rises above the rhythmic excitement.

That's just the first four tracks.  "Leaves of Glass" features fellow brass players Josh Berman (cornet) and Ben Lamar Gay (cornet) and they create a sonic blueprint that opens up to the arco cello and bass, a flurry of percussion, fiery trumpet, and scary overdubbed denoting "the storm."

Prepare to be surprised by the breadth and vitality of the music on "Fly or Die."  Although the album is barely 36 minutes long, there is so much going on, so many possibilities.  One can only imagine how this music roars and whispers in live settings.  Jaimie Branch took her time to deliver her debut album and it is well worth the wait.

For more information, go to

Here's a track with the quartet:

Trumpeter and composer Farnell Newton (born 1997, Miami, FL) s a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music who moved to Portland, OR, and is now a full-time member of that community's music scene.  He has worked with singer-songwriter Jill Sobule, funk bassist Bootsy Collins, Darrell Grant, Gladys Knight and many others.  "Back To Earth" is his sixth album as a leader and his debut on Posi-Tone Records. While his 2015 recording "Ready To Roll" was more of a contemporary soul album, his new effort is straight-ahead displaying his formidable "chops".  Joining him are Greg Goebel (piano), Dylan Sundstrom (bass), Christopher Brown (drums), and, on most of the tracks, trombonist Kyle Molitor, all members of the Portland scene.

Eight of the 11 tracks are Newton originals with one tune each by drummer Brown, Freddie Hubbard, and Wayne Shorter. Brown's piece, "Back To Earth" is a funky ballad introduced by a sweet piano melody plus Goebel gets the first solo, an expansive melodic adventure.  The leader doesn't come in until halfway through the 6-minute piece but he rides the groove with an easy solo that even has a bit of fire to it. "Fire" is what hears on the Hubbard tune, "Arietas", a piece off the trumpeter's 1961 "Ready For Freddie" Lp (where the title was spelled "Arietis"). The "burning" piece features splendid work from the rhythm section and fine solos from Geobel and Newton.  Shorter's "El Gaucho" (off his "Adam's Apple" recording) changes tempos, has an attractive feel, and, here, a pleasing Latin rhythm.

The original pieces have their charms as well. "Road To The South" swings atop an insistent rhythmic drive, giving the leader the impetus to rise above the fray. There's also a sweet solo from Molitor and a powerful turn from Goebel (who is quite impressive throughout.) The pianist works around the melody created by the brass on "Redefining The Norm", not so much a counterpoint but a creating a lovely frame around tune. And, again, his solo stands.  His introduction to "Crossing The Tracks" leads the listeners to a soulful tune with several smart twists-and-turns.

Throughout "Back To Earth", Farnell Newton and his compatriots create an enjoyable sound that's not challenging as much as it is soothing, soulful, and melodic. This music sounds good as you sit on the back porch or in the park in the late afternoon as the sun paints the world golden.

For more information, go to

Here's the title track:

No comments:

Post a Comment