Ed Neumeister & NeuHat Ensemble - Wake Up Call

Label/Year: MeisteroMusic Records, 2017

Lineup: Mark Gross, Adam Kolker, Billy Drewes, Rich Perry, and Dick Oatts on reeds; Tony Kadleck, Dave Ballou, Jon Owens, Ron Tooley on trumpets; Marshall Gilkes, Keith O’Quinn, Larry Farrell, David Taylor on trombones; Steve Cardenas: guitar; David Berkman: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; John Riley: drums; John Hollenbeck: percussion.


Ed Neumeister, a former member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, is a versatile trombonist, composer, arranger, and conductor who debuted The NeuHat Ensemble in 1983. Since then, the reputed band has accommodated several jazz luminaries such as Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner, and Don Byron, just to name a few. Subjected to alterations in its lineup throughout the years, the ensemble was reunited after Neumeister has returned to the US from Austria, where he taught for nearly 15 years. As a result, Wake Up Call holds out to eight evocative originals solidly orchestrated through airy and polished arrangements.

Striding with a soft backbeat, “Birds of Prey” brings flutes and other woodwinds to the forefront, assuming an innocuous nature and progressing with unabashed determination.

Interesting rhythmic accentuations spice up “Dog Play”, an Ellingtonian wallop that features the enlightened patterns and phrases of clarinetist Billy Drewes, Neumeister’s former bandmate in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

Combining Brazilian rhythmic touches and lyrical clarity, “Locomotion” eschews any type of percussive turmoil to fixate on a vibrantly dancing interplay that astounds. This piece, composed in 1995 and previously recorded for the Jazz Big Band Graz record, exudes scented spring breezes with dulcet benevolence and optimistic oceanic textures, featuring delightful saxophone and trombone solos from Dick Oatts and Neumeister, respectively. The title track follows a similar pacifism yet slightly more concentrated in texture.

With an impactful dramatic punch, “New Groove” is buoyed by hi-hat cymbal and a groovy cadence of piano and bass. The tune features the singular verbalization of saxophonist Rich Perry intercalated with orchestral usurpations.
The title “Reflection” was well chosen for a piece that achieves the desired level of symphonic sophistication through beautiful counterpoints delivered in the form of cries, whispers, and hushed murmurs. On the contrary, “Deliberation” is a gently swinging piece propelled by a controlled bass sway plus ticklish brushed drumming, and adorned with non-colliding guitar and piano compings and horn unisons afloat. The improvisers are Mark Gross on alto saxophone and Neumeister on an explicitly verbalized muted trombone.

Leading with a strong musical discernment, Mr. Neumeister harmoniously paints several landscapes using distinct techniques and intensities. Although glancingly evocative of Duke, there’s room for a contemporary attitude, which makes of Wake Up Call a bracing album packed with pleasurable sounds to be discovered.

         Grade  A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
03 – New Groove ► 05 – Deliberation ► 06 – Locomotion

Hyeseon Hong Jazz Orchestra - Ee Ya Gi

Label/Year: Mama Records, 2017

Lineup includes - Hyeseon Hong: composition, direction; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet; Rich Perry: tenor sax; Ben Kono: alto and soprano sax, flute; Matt Vashlishan: alto sax, EWI, flute; Jeremy Powell: tenor sax, clarinet; Andrew Hadro: baritone sax; Ron Wilkens: trombone; Matt Panayides: guitar; Broc Hempel: piano; John Lenis: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.

The name Hyeseon Hong might not be very familiar to the jazz diaspora yet. However, this Korean jazz arranger and composer based in New York shows strong attributes in her debut album, Ee-Ya-Gi (meaning Stories), to get further and enchant the world with her genre-bending orchestrations. Moreover, she surrounds herself with a fantastic group of 18 musicians that make sure her musical stories are emboldened and get proper wings.

The band's lineup not only includes two habitués of Maria Schneider Orchestra, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and Rich Perry on tenor saxophone, but also the multi-reedists Matt Vashlishan, member of the Dave Liebman’s Expansion quintet, and Ben Kono, who has been working regularly with Ed Palermo, as well as the sought-after drummer Mark Ferber whose percussive thuds and thumps can be found on records by trumpeter Ralph Alessi, his trombonist twin brother Alan Ferber, and Spanish bassist Alexis Cuadrado.
Harvest Dance” opens the record with a full-bodied richness. Overflowing with contemporary moves, the sounds are elegantly layered within a harmonious combination of Korean melodic grace and Ellingtonian jazz fantasy. The improvisers in this piece are trombonist Dave Wilkens, whose vocabulary develops passionately after a wonderful solo entrance, and Jensen, who drills into the surface, using forceful attacks suffused with melody.

Friends or Lovers” kicks in with robust power chords, with the similar tones of Pete Townshend and The Who, and advances with contrapuntal horn ostinatos over a bass pedal until acquiring a captivating swinging jazz flow. The first soloist jumping to the forefront is Kono, whose phrasing is delineated with straightforward melodies that take a convincing rhythmic course. The articulated guitarist Matt Panayides, who skillfully plays with pitches and intervals, immediately follows him and just before the rock curtains come down again to finish off the tune, Vashlishan brings his EWI to the spotlight.

This vibrant setting is softened on “Para Mi Amigo Distante”, a gentle yet colorful piece freshly dressed up with bossa nova outfits. The mellifluous melodic guidelines are reinforced through Kono’s soprano, whose easiness made me think of Toots Thielemans, but the tenor player Jeremy Powell fires it up a little bit.

Carrying a traditional Korean folk melody at its core, “Boat Song” moves at an arresting 6/4 tempo, featuring emotional vocalized laments and a beautiful, heartfelt solo full of intention by the veteran tenorist Rich Perry. This Oriental balminess diverges from the classical aromas of Broc Hempel’s piano on “Disappearing Into Foam”, a palpitating waltz inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

The cartoonish melodies and strong rhythmic accentuations of “Trash Digging Queen” contrast with the delicacy of “Love Song”, the closing tune. Both feature Jensen’s wide-ranging dynamic lines.

Exhibiting an insatiable appetite for jazz-fusion, Ms. Hong proves to be a talented orchestrator and musical thinker who is not afraid to risk while crossing genre boundaries.

       Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Harvest Dance ► 02 – Friends Or Lovers ► 04 – Boat Song