Label: Greenleaf Music, 2019
Personnel - Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Matt Gold: guitar; Dave Miller: guitar; Matt Ulery: bass; Quin Kirchner: drums.
Saxophonist Greg Ward has been a ubiquitous presence in the Chicago jazz scene for some years now. He is a terrific bandleader, composer, and arranger and his sophomore Greenleaf album, Stomping Off From Greenwood, features a new quintet with guitarists Matt Gold and Dave Miller, bassist Matt Ulery, and drummer Quin Kirchner. Together, they are Rogue Parade.
The record opens with “Metropolis”, an exciting ode to New York and Chicago, cities that are in the heart of the bandleader. Things are kept intensely contemporary throughout the route, and from its epicenter, located midway between a busy free-funk and floor-filling electronica, branches out guileless breakbeats, rolling guitar ostinatos, and expressive melody. The quieter passages resemble a melodic symphonic rock, oozing into atmospheric moments where the guitarists entwine textural work.
Inspired by boxing, “The Contender” flaunts an odd groove in seven, worthy of the best prog-rock attributes. Ward and Gold deftly delineate their solos, while Kirchner gives wings to his percussive creativity on a strenuous vamp installed after the final theme. A different, quieter route is taken on “The Fourth Reverie”, a spacious cosmic-like enterprise into the unknown marked by atmospheric guitar. A disciplined ebullience returns with “Let Him Live”, a piece showcasing Ward’s rapid-fire phrases diffusing tension over a relentless Afro groove accommodating guitar strokes in counterpoint.
“Black Woods” is one of my favorite compositions and opens with a personal pizzicato statement by Ulery. He later employs arco in support of a more mysterious ride. Collectiveness abounds exemplified by earnest unison phrases in a Paul Motian-esque electric setting that also offers synergistic tradeoffs between saxophone and guitar.
The band transforms “Stardust”, a jazz standard, into a feel-good pop/rock experience with waltzing cadences. Its energy is extended to “Sundown”, whose initial languid tone is reinforced by a detached backbeat and guitar fingerpicking. The song rises amiably, setting a determined yet relaxed mood with circular harmonic movements and plenty of melodies.
Two numbers, “Excerpt1” and “Excerpt2”, resulted from Ward’s daily compositional routines. While the first piece turned out somber, even when the drummer crashes the cymbals with a bold efficiency, the second, more playful in nature, is a mixed bag of African and R&B flavors.
In this recording, Ward’s appealing jazz-centered music takes several directions, achieving cohesiveness as a whole. Regardless of the ambience, his improvisations stand out, eventually ramping up to elevated levels of adventure while seeking new outfits to dress the jazz according to our days.
03 – The Contender ► 05 – Let Him Live ► 06 – Black Woods