This release features trombone phenom Ed Neumeister in a rare, intimate setting as leader of a first-class quartet. The American trombonist's classical music background is reflected in his carefully articulated lines and pristine sound, but as with Wynton Marsalis, Neumeister is equally at home playing jazz standards, as he does here with considerable aplomb. Boasting a comfortable three-octave range, the under-recorded Neumeister easily negotiates the changes to his complex "Spring Street," in which he leaps wide intervals with incredible speed, and on the signature Strayhorn tune "Take the 'A' Train," on which the trombonist soloed regularly during his time with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. In terms of technique, Neumeister can do it all, from exhibiting expansive range; spectacular agility; trills; and old-time, down-home, gut-wrenching effects with the wah-wah mute, something he displays to excellent effect on Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacock." At his best, as on the latter tune, the trombonist is one of the finest of his generation, an underrated giant waiting to be discovered…”
Section player and sideman steps out to confirm that arranging and chops can revitalize a handful of chestnuts. New Standards works because Prof. Neumeister is one hell of a trombonist, and design-wise, his solos are fanciful reveries (check that mute work on "The Peacocks") that nonetheless boast a steely logic.
Standards remain the lifeblood of much of the so-called “Jazz Tradition”. There are literally hundreds of recordings each year that look to these timeless melodies, though precious few really go out on a limb in the interest of doing something different. While trombonist Ed Neumeister’s New Standards doesn’t necessarily radicalize the tradition (nor is it an all standards program), he offers compelling versions of three warhorses and a relatively unknown John Scofield composition from the guitarist’s 80s funk/fusion period. As for Neumeister’s bio, he has appeared as a member of a number of ensembles, including the big bands of Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich, Mel Lewis (and later, the Vanguard Orchestra), Gerry Mulligan, and the Duke Ellington band, under Mercer Ellington’s baton, as well as several sessions as a leader. This release focuses on Neumeister in a small group setting, allowing the focus to be placed on his writing/arranging skills and his formidable ‘bone technique.
Commencing with Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train”, the group demonstrates its buoyant sense of swing, as the familiar theme adds a touch of Duke’s “Satin Doll” before Neumeister adds a burnished solo over a path of shifting tempos—the musical equivalent of a train ride. Worth noting immediately is the rock-solid rhythm section work, with pianist Fritz Pauer’s articulate piano lines, Drew Gress’ uplifting bass tones, and John Hollenbeck’s ever-tasteful drumming. The trio sparks John Scofield’s “Pick & Pans”, a funky groove that demonstrates the bubbling joy of this quartet. Neumeister demonstrates his skill with a plunger mute on Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks”, with ample use of vocal-like wah-wahs (à la Tricky Sam Nanton). The arrangement adds a gloss of mystery to the piece, with the most poignant moments occurring during his introductory foray in the Gress’ company. As for the standards, the quartet concludes with Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low”, not a radical recast, but an enjoyable closer.
The two Neumeister compositions—“Spring Street” and “A Walk in the Woods”—are congenial, mid-tempo journeys. As with the other tracks here, these two pieces keep one’s interest due to the fact that there is an underlying sense of merriment on the part of Neumeister’s supporting cast. Fleshing that out, the former thrives on incisive work from the rhythm section, in particular Hollenbeck’s accents and measured solo statements, while the latter, a more than ten-minute reflection on “Come Rain or Come Shine”, allows each member of the group to stretch out and add their individual talents. Overall, it’s a fun, straight-ahead session where Neumeister and crew add their own creative personalities, resulting in solid tunesmanship and ensemble work.
A mainstay for leaders from Dixieland through swing, the T-bone never quite recovered from bop, the unfortunate result being that inventive trombone-led combos have been few and far between. However, one listen to New Standards from trombonist Ed Neumeister's quartet, makes it clear that things needn't have turned out the way they did.
With quickly and crisply enunciated solos that encompass the upper registers, Neumeister at times rings out trumpet-like on the self-composed selections “Spring Street” and “A Walk in the Woods.” Both serve as opportunities to match improvisatory skill with European pianist Fritz Pauer. With highly adept articulation and mute work, Neumeister is then able to turn pianist Jimmy Rowles' classic “The Peacocks” into a showcase for the trombone's uncanny capability to mimic the human voice.
While Neumeister is clearly front and center, the session gels. This is in large part due to the creative yet solid NYC rhythm section of bassist Drew Gress and drummer John Hollenbeck, who, along with Pauer, propel things forward while keeping them focused. Ellington's “Take the A-Train” sounds fresh by virtue of Neumeister's coloration and the new course the band charts for this well-ridden route. Likewise, the oft-interpreted Kurt Weill piece “Speak Low” maintains its enchanting melodic mystery and vocal nature, primarily through Pauer's direction, as each band member uses it as a vehicle for personal expression.
With New Standards, Neumeister has released a session that breaks down the trombone's stereotype by highlighting its breadth and diverse tonal capabilities within the framework of a cohesive group sound.
Jazz is created from many entities—heartfelt and soulful, emotionally charged, cerebrally intense, scholarly, and if you're so guided...spiritually inspired.
I've never met Ed Neumeister, although we share many friends in the jazz community. Upon the first sit-down listening to his recent expression of brilliance—"Reflection"—I was immediately drawn to its beauty, sadness, charm...yet ever so a thinking man's jazz of much substance. On this release, recorded in Vienna in 2006, trombone master Neumeister truly paints aural visions of deep feelings with his gifts and exquisite collaborations with his astute band mates, who share like minds and compositions.
Let me introduce you to this kinetic ensemble of fine musicians—Fritz Pauer at the piano, Drew Gress on the bass and John Hollenbeck on drums join trombonist Neumeister to take you on an hour-plus excursion that will capture all of your senses. Reflection, indeed. This is beautiful, heady stuff, crafted in a variety of key changes, textures and wondrous hues that gently transport you to a magical place that touches you inside.
It has some of the best production work I've enjoyed in a long time, especially the gorgeous, rich bass sound Drew Gress lays down. And, how wonderfully it was recorded—the drums, too. Hollenbeck's amazing, and the constant, clever interplay throughout, between the horn and piano, is simply enchanting. I've never heard a trombone sing, cry, and wail in the manner that Neumeister has mastered.
This CD is a work of art that jazz itself can be very proud of. It's definitely in my top 10 list for 2006-7. Reflect on this review, then pick up "Reflection" through ArtistShare Records today.
On "Reflection", Ed Neumeister's latest release on ArtistShare records, the trombonist and his team of seasoned sidemen invite us into a more delicate and introspective side of the sound spectrum. Never overbearing or forceful, they skillfully and effortlessly weave their way through adventurous terrain while maintaining steadfast interest in each of their combined conversations to keep the listener’s ear close at hand.
Neumeister himself is no stranger to the art form. Having worked with such jazz luminaries as Buddy Rich, Mel Lewis, Gerry Mulligan and Toshiko Akioshi, among others, it's no wonder why his music is both rhythmically complex and deeply lyrical.
Now, I have listened to this recording several times, each time with growing appreciation. And while I am not usually a fan of trombone solos in general, I have to admit that Neumeister’s performances are so thoughtful and beautifully executed that it just proves the notion that any instrument in the hands of a master can unquestionably soothe the savage beast.
Pay particular attention to the muted solo he takes on drummer John Hollenbecks "Coping Song"... outstanding. Other tracks that stand out as exceptional are: “Trees,” “Osmosis” and “Gobblers Nob,” all of which were written by Neumister who apparently enjoys an elicit love affair with all things outlandish and exotic. Supporting musicians Fritz Pauer (piano), John Hollenbeck (drums) and Drew Gress (bass) each contribute their own impressive compositions to round out the record.
All in all, the aptly titled Reflection is a wondrously intense and enjoyable hour-long journey into the minds of these four very reflective master musicians.
Combining Ed Neumeister's loose, flowing trombone lines with the organized counterpart of a tightly sewn rhythm section, a vibrant, balanced calm permeates Reflection. Mimicking the natural patterns of a day or a life, the album's rhythmic energy shifts smoothly within a single tune, or from track to track. The result never seems unwarranted; in fact, unexpected moments regularly pique interest, like when the chimes glint off Fritz Pauer's piano lines during "It Was After Rain That the Angel Came, composed by bassist Drew Gress.
Each player contributed one track to the album, and the leader filled in the rest. Drummer John Hollenbeck's "Coping Song, written on September 12, 2001, presents an interesting test of time and the musicians' own relationship with it. A syncopated beat plucked out simultaneously on bass and piano underlies convoluted sounds created by a muted trombone. Neumeister makes his instrument speak a bluesy lament—talking, wailing, searching, seeking—all comprehensible on a certain human level. The dense five-note loop eases into the sparsely notated opening of the title track, played in the high range of the piano, then quickly releases its breath into a luminescent percussive shimmer by Hollenbeck. The relaxing effect is welcome after the earlier tenseness.
Neumeister's compositions have an alacrity made apparent by this particular combination of players. They bring a level of vivacity to the arrangements, pounding hard, but also mingling amongst each other with confidence and authority.
Though many tracks meander slowly through contemplative terrain, many of them bust into high-energy displays. The opening "Trees features maelstroms of big, showy energetic solos from each player. Neumeister takes the lead, flittering around with sophisticated and gleeful buoyancy, easily pulling himself into and out of a variety of situations. Gress continues the enthusiasm, brandishing a deft hand over his bass; Pauer adds dramatic passion, jostling the piano keys about before embarking on an intrepid journey to the summit. Hollenbeck plays rumbling percussion that recalls acrobatics. It all culminates in a firecracker finale.
I am embarrassed to say that Ed Neumeister is a new name to me, since he is a master trombonist who plays the instrument with a tone and facility that almost belies its membership in the brass family.
Neumeister is a veteran of many large groups, including Mel Lewis' big band, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Lionel Hampton Band and the Buddy Rich Band. After living, teaching and performing in Europe for the last seven years, Neumeister is relocating back to the States. Reflection is but one of his projects, the other (main) one being his NeuHat Ensemble, which performs an exciting mix of classical and jazz.
The music on Reflection is all original, and as such is sort of the flip side to his earlier release, New Standards. Of the eight tracks, five are by Neumeister, plus one each by bassist Drew Gress ("It Was After The Rain That The Angel Came"), pianist Fritz Pauer ("Yanagumi") and drummer John Hollenbeck ("Coping Song"). Neumeister mentions in the notes that this quartet is a real working band, and that the record was recorded while it was touring. He also talks about how the compositions by the other band members fit perfectly into his conception, without them knowing exactly what that was in advance.
A blowing record this is not, but while the arrangements are more or less evident, the music always maintains the spirit of surprise. It is very light, flexible and delicate, but with a strong center maintained by different player groupings as each track progresses. There is also a very high intelligence quotient, which should not be taken to mean stuffy or precious performances, but rather a conviction that less is more, so everything is in its place and all proceeds naturally according to a plan, without feeling even slightly "composed." Thus, the music is a gift, since the listener can perceive and understand what is happening and yet know that there is much more in deeper layers waiting to be explored on the next listen.
The memorable themes and melodies on this disc virtually haunted me for days and days. Whether it is Neumeister's trombone exposition of "Trees" (played in a "delicate Afro 12/8" meter), or the theme of the Gress tune, or even the more open "Osmosis," the band's improvisation never lets the melody stray never far away—and that makes it memorable and keeps reminding the ear. Hollenbeck's exquisite, extremely moving "Coping Song," written on 9/12/2001, is a prime example of how the group is not merely a lead trombone with a rhythm section.
Both streaming music and the liner notes can be enjoyed on Neumeister's website, but if you are like me, you will want to play the hard copy for full fidelity. While the notes are detailed, they will not replace close listening to this engaging and rewarding music. Highly recommended.
After twenty years in New York, trombonist Ed Neumeister went expatriate in 1999, moving his family to Vienna, Austria; he now holds the position of Professor of Trombone studies at the University of Music and Dramatic Arts in Graz, Austria. A veteran of many top big bands led by Duke Ellington Orchestra, Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich and others, he also earned a Grammy nomination for his arrangement of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" in 1992, and he's worked as a freelance trombonist for numerous philharmonic and symphony orchestras.
Despite all those accomplishments, two of his bandmates on Reflection—bassist Drew Gress and drummer John Hollenbeck—can claim higher profiles. Pianist Fritz Pauer rounds out the quartet, which showcases some gorgeously facile group interplay.
The quartet's equilibrium is remarkable. A trombone has the ability to blow in the direction of bombast and brassy volume, but Ed Neumeister's group sounds almost chamber-like in its equality, with each touch of the cymbal ringing clear, each plucked bass note throbbing distinctly. Neumeister—the composer and player—is a master of subtlety and finesse on open or muted horn, and Pauer adds splashes of swirling bright colors with masterful aplomb.
Five of the eight tunes here are Neumeister originals, along with one piece each from Hollenbeck, Gress and Pauer. Things get "jazzy" at times, as on the Neumeister-penned "Osmosis," where the trombone sits in a more up-front position; but for the most part, this is thoughtful, erudite music—democratic music, relentlessly beautiful sounds that seem almost suite-like in their interconnectedness.
Reflection shines a very deserved spotlight on a lesser-known talent.