'Thirst for experimentation . . . pushing of known boundaries . . . appreciation for the time-tested sounds of the tradition. Not your typical guitar date.' --Cadence 'Nelson merges Euro-jazz type improvisation with the upfront tenacity of a multi-directional New York City downtown-like vibe.' --ejazznews Origin Story, guitarist/composer Richard Nelson's second album on the Invisible label, brings together an outstanding quintet of Maine-based musicians to play his progressive, exploratory compositions. Ranging from the free-bopper "Sound Around" and the political satire "Bloated Hawks" to the artful integration of composition with structured and free improvisation in the title track, the group's empathetic, interactive qualities are evident throughout. The superb veteran trumpeter Don Stratton contributes a composition, as does drummer Steve Grover. Saxophonist Tim O'Dell and bassist Sam Sherry complete this engaging ensemble. As a follow-up to his straight-ahead trio album Figurations, Origin Story reveals a more compositionally complex and progressive side of Nelson's musical persona. ******** 'Political deception, the event horizons of black holes, and searching meditations on the idea of beginnings comprise just some of the themes deftly explored on the engaging new release Origin Story by the Richard Nelson Quintet. Distinctive, innovative compositions and satisfying improvisations meld in fresh and unpredictable ways here to create an album rich in variety, depth and beauty. Balancing his lifelong engagement with jazz (15 years and 10 albums with the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra; performances in the U.S. and abroad including the Boston and Concord Jazz Festivals) with his extensive training and experience in compositional shaping--he has a doctorate in composition from Columbia and has left a trail of many performances of modern classical works--Nelson brings a refreshingly original and stimulating sensibility to the fundamental challenges of contemporary jazz composition. 'The title track and opener 'Origin Story,'' Nelson said, 'was something of a breakthrough piece for me in it's integration of structured and free improvisation with through-composed material. I think this performance of it nicely captures the collaborative creative process at the heart of this group's efforts, as a web of possible starting points and their imagined resulting tales is spun in both individual and collective musical narratives.' In the course of it's journey through collective modal invocations, a questing groove-based melodic section and powerful, other-worldly ensemble improvisations, this track reveals clearly both the strength of Nelson's compositional vision and the superb musicianship of his fellow players. Trumpeter Don Stratton--a wily veteran who toured with the Claude Thornhill and Glenn Miller bands, and who has performed with Bird, Max Roach, Phil Woods, etc.--further demonstrates the depth of his accumulated musical wisdom on another Nelson original, the perky post-Ornette free bopper 'Sound Around.' And the ironically playful Mingus-meets-Zappa political satire 'Bloated Hawks: Dick Cheney, We Will Pay for this Arrogance', another of Nelson's multi-sectional, uniquely shaped compositions, provides a canvas for the scorching explorations of alto saxophonist Tim O'Dell--who came to Maine via Chicago and has recorded several albums for that city's Southport Records label, and who has also performed with Danilo Perez, Muhal Richard Abrams, etc. The inventive, melodic, propulsive drumming of Steve Grover animates this entire disc. Grover has performed with Chris Potter, Tony Malaby, etc., and has recorded several albums of his original music, including two that feature George Garzone. His Blackbird Suite won the 1994 Thelonious Monk Institute Composers Competition. Grover's fetching 'I Know Noble Accents', built on an endearing Bobby Timmons-like groove, features solos from all and is the album's most straight-ahead offering. Nelson's avant-improv piece 'Spacetime Foam' is staged 'in the depths of space,' where 'universes collide . . . and divide . . . ' At once playful and revelatory, this track--as well as Stratton's 'Frankie Newton'--reveals yet another of the quintet's approaches to the artful integration of improvisation and composition, as they draw on both the jazz and the downtown-classical John Cage-influenced improv traditions. Throughout, Nelson's exceptionally versatile, powerful and colorful guitar playing searches out the core of each musical moment. He draws on the full palette of contemporary jazz guitar sounds, ranging from the burning intensity of his solo in the final sections of 'Origin Story' to the Hendrix-influenced textures and effects in 'Spacetime Foam' to his straight-ahead, in-the-pocket solo on 'I Know Noble Accents.' Unifying these diverse approaches are his compelling sense of musical structure and a heartfelt blues sensibility. Two very accomplished bassists, Sam Sherry and Greg Loughman, round out the musical contributions to this engaging disc. Both playful and serious, deep yet accessible, Origin Story is an album that will reward many listenings.' --- Liner notes: Since settling in Maine some twelve years ago (from Berkeley, via stops in New York and Boston), I have been very fortunate to find here a highly inventive and supportive creative music community. Many of the creative conceptions I have developed over this period have grown directly out of these interactions and associations. I am very happy to have this collection of recordings to represent the outstanding musicians I've had the pleasure of working with here in Maine in the context of my (and their) recent compositions. Trumpeter Don Stratton, whose youthful, mischievous twinkle belies his veteran status, plays with a seasoned musical maturity and wisdom that inspires and quietly instructs us all. A veteran of the late 1940s and 50s New York and Boston jazz scenes, Don toured with the road bands of Nat Pierce, Glenn Miller (under Tex Beneke) and Claude Thornhill, among others, and he has performed and/or recorded with such figures as Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan and Phil Woods. Don was one of the founders of the jazz program at the Manhattan School of Music, and he subsequently taught for more than twenty years in the University of Maine system, mentoring many of the state's top jazz educators. Don has had a distinguished career as a composer as well, writing and arranging in both the jazz and concert music idioms. He is represented here by a piece written in memory of his friend and fellow-trumpeter Frankie Newton. Don's note for this piece reads: 'Frankie Newton was born in Emory, VA, on January 4, 1906. He died in New York City on March 11, 1954. He was a warm, insightful trumpet player; tall, thoughtful, quiet and dignified. Frankie Newton is dedicated to Dean Neal, who premiered it. Dean is not tall.' The very talented alto saxophonist Tim O'Dell, who recently moved to Maine from the Chicago area, has recorded several albums including the acclaimed Before My Life, a collection of ten original compositions for sextet. Tim has performed with George Russell, Muhal Richard Abrams and Danilo Perez, among many others. As these notes are being written (and as always), Tim has a number of composition, performance and recording projects in the works. The outstanding, inventive drummer Steve Grover is also a highly regarded composer. Steve's 'I Know Noble Accents' is from his song cycle Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (based on the poem by Wallace Stevens) which won the 1994 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz/BMI Jazz Composers Competition. His extensive performance history includes performances with Lenny Breau, Tony Malaby and Chris Potter, among others. Steve has recorded five albums of his original material featuring collaborators such as George Garzone, Frank Carlberg and Brad Terry. The group has enjoyed the musical contributions of a number of fine bassists, among them Sam Sherry (who plays on the majority of these tracks) and Greg Loughman. Sam has appeared with performers such as Jimmy Heath, Alex Foster and Jerry Bergonzi. In Maine, he leads the group Ursa Major, with which he has released an album of his own compositions. Greg is an active Boston-based musician with an album titled A Month of Sundays and recent international performances and recording with pianist Yoko Miwa. Greg, like Don, Tim and Steve, teaches with me in the Jazz and Contemporary Music program at the University of Maine at Augusta. As for myself, these recordings mark something of an arrival point for me both as a composer and a player. After many years of creative activity in both the jazz and concert music idioms (including graduate study in composition at Indiana and Columbia and fifteen-plus years in the Boston-based Aardvark Jazz Orchestra), I began to find in these pieces a satisfying melding of my composition and improvisation impulses. The opener and title track, 'Origin Story,' was something of a breakthrough piece for me in it's integration of structured and free improvisation with through-composed material. I think this performance of it nicely captures the collaborative creative process at the heart of this group's efforts, as a web of possible starting points and their imagined resulting tales is spun in both individual and collective musical narratives. 'Bloated Hawks' is a politically conceived piece which I composed in the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003. I like to think that it's parodic portrayal of institutional arrogance and hubris is versatile and, unfortunately, there seems little reason to doubt that it will remain relevant to the activities of those in the corridors of power for some time to come. 'Sound Around' is a fun free-bop blowing tune with a particularly graceful solo from Don. Finally, 'Spacetime Foam' is a playful improv piece taking as it's inspiration black holes and the intensity of their 'event horizons,' where, as Kip S. Thorne describes it in Black Holes and Time Warps, 'the laws of quantum gravity . . . convert space into a random, probabilistic froth.' Improvisation and written passages staged 'in the depths of space' lead to 'hyper, intense improv at the 'event horizon.'' Then, 'universes collide . . . and divide . . . ': one resultant universe is characterized as 'active, frolicking,' while the other is 'spacious, cavernous, elongated.' The resulting swirls of activityand a relaxed closing melody steer the piece towards it's final gestures. Richard Nelson Brunswick, Maine March 2004.
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