The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra Richard Nelson: Figurations

Drawing on the talents of his musical companions Steve Grover and Chris Van Voorst Van Beest, composer guitarist Richard Nelson presents a cohesive mixture of original compositions and standards ranging from Cole Porter to Wayne Shorter to Ornette Coleman.

1 Dark Side (Richard Nelson) 6:37
2 I Love You (Cole Porter) 4:31
3 I Know Noble Accents (Steve Grover) 6:17
4 Figurations (Richard Nelson) 5:24

5 Angel Eyes (Dennis/Brent) 6:04
6 Infant Eyes (Wayne Shorter) 5:21
7 Due Respect (Richard Nelson) 7:47
8 Congeniality (Ornette Coleman) 5:22
9 The Seventh String (Steve Grover) 4:45

Liner Notes

    Two of the most wonderful things about jazz are its expessive range and its geographical reach. The first you will hear on this debut CD by Richard Nelson and his stellar bandmates bassist Chris Van Voorst Van Beest and drummer Steve Grover.The second needs a bit of explanation and will serve to introduce these fine players.
     New York may still be the Apple of some musicians' eyes, but many more ply their artful trade in regional scenes throughout these United States (and around the world). This has been true for most of the past century so it is little wonder that excellent players abound all over the map. This trio hails from New England and its individual members are active from Boston to Maine. In fact, they all serve on the University of Maine at Augusta jazz faculty where they pass along their knowledge of the music to
the next generation and bring swinging sounds to jazz lovers in that area. In and around all of this activity, these three have managed to work individually with artists of the first rank. Bassist Chris Van Voorst Van Beest is active on the Boston jazz scene and has played with Chris Potter, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Terry, and Greg Tardy. His sensitive playing can also be heard on albums by Steve Grover and Maine guitarist Tony Gaboury. Drummer Steve Grover's performance credits include work with Lenny Breau, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Tate, Jay McShann, Eddie Gomez, John Blake, Roswell Rudd, and George Garzone. Steve won the 1994 Thelonious Monk Institute of
Jazz/BMI Composers Competition and was one of a dozen winners of the 1996
JAZZIZ Magazine Percussion on Fire talent search.
     Richard Nelson, guitarist, composer, and leader of this trio, richly deserves the wider exposure this debut CD affords. His resume is chock full of enough jazz and classical experience for at least two people. Early years were spent in the San Francisco area where playing in the UC Berkeley Big Band found him backing guest artists Joe Henderson, John Handy, and George Duke while small group gigs from the Keystone Korner to the Concord Jazz Festival provided an entirely different kind of perspective. A move to the Midwest brought him under the tutelage of Donald Erb as he pursued compositional studies at Indiana University. There he also assumed the
guitar chair in the IU Big Band, directed by the legendary David Baker, and performed with this band in Manhattan's Symphony Space with guest artist Slide Hampton. Shortly after this, New York became the next formative locale for Rick, as he did doctoral work in composition with Mario Davidovsky at Columbia while studying with Bob Brookmeyer and Manny Albam in the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. His modern classical pieces have been performed by Speculum Musicae, ALEA III, and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra while his jazz work has been heard in myriad settings.
     One of these settings has been my own Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, of which Rick has been a mainstay since 1988. With Aardvark, Rick has shared his exceptional musicality as part of the rhythm section, in his imaginative solo flights, and through his creative compositions. Aardvark is no ordinary band, and since Rick is no ordinary guitarist, the fit is perfect. His has been a pivotal, shaping influence in dozens of live performances, many of them captured on Aardvark's five CDs which have already brought Rick's guitar sound to listeners around the world. His eclectic influences
range from Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Pat Martino, John McLaughlin, and Jimi
Hendrix to the blues Kings--B.B., Albert, and Freddie--and on to the saxophone pantheon of Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane. Not all of these influences will be heard on this initial recording; we'll just have to wait for the next one and the ones after that. But more importantly, what will be heard is not derivative because Richard Nelson has what years of seasoning and honest creative exploration produce--his own distinctive sound and style.
     The nine pieces on this album offer a most rewarding and engaging introduction to his deft lyricism and to the understated intensity of the trio concept presented here. This is an approach which evokes the trios of Jimmy Giuffre with Jim Hall and Ralph Pena or of Bill Evans with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian or of the Miles Davis rhythm section with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. Rick, Chris, and Steve don't consciously imitate any of these but they certainly bring the same kind of
disciplined listening and group interplay to their work.
     The opener is a Nelson original, Dark Side, with suspended time, chordal effects, subtly propulsive percussion and dancing bass fills alerting us to the particular sound world to be encountered. Pedal points alternate with walking bass lines as fluid guitar lines propel this medium-up tempo tune along. All the while, thoughtful and tasty drumming underpins the whole enterprise. I Love You is given a fresh interpretation as boppish blowing abounds, but with room to breathe, while Chris takes a fine motivic,
horn-like solo on bass. Next up is a Steve Grover tune, I Know Noble Accents, part of the composer's award-winning Blackbird Suite. This is a fourteen-bar form into which Rick pours a liquid, singing, blues-inflected potion, followed by Chris' bass solo, then guitar and drums trade off before returning to the head. Nelson's Figurations proves once again the inexhaustibility of the blues with its angular lines and three-way scoring
making this a most intriguing composition. Everyone solos and they all pay attention to this particular tune, following out its implications rather than just covering blues changes.
     Angel Eyes is the other standard on the disc, here cast in a light Latin feel. Rick and Chris both play to the tune's bluesy nature, with Rick's arcing solo lines and interpretive phrasing making this an especially striking performance. A much different outlook is presented with the trio's version of Wayne Shorter's Infant Eyes. Vaporous, Debussyian cloud-like chordings frame the opening segments, giving way almost imperceptibly to linear playing and then back into the cloudscape. Due Respect, another Nelson original, begins with a quietly intense samba-styled vamp counterpointed by a wash of sound, all of which lends a certain air of mystery to the proceedings, and moves into a sinuous melodic line further developed by the soloists. Ornette Coleman's mobius-band piece Congeniality provides the springboard for the trio's most energetic playing as it evokes the spirit of the Haden/Higgins band. The playing is exciting, especially from Steve Grover who plays around and across all the available time. And it is another of Steve's originals which closes out this very fine disc. The Seventh String returns us to the light Latin groove heard earlier, this time with a lyrical melody set to intriguing harmonies. As the drum solo percolates over an extended chord vamp, the CD program comes to an end but not really to a conclusion. It's as if the trio were just taking a break and leaving us all wanting to hear much more of their wonderful music, especially the multifaceted figurations of guitarist/composer Richard Nelson.

--Mark Harvey

Mark Harvey is a trumpeter/composer and music director of the Aardvark Jazz
Orchestra. He writes and lectures on jazz nationwide and teaches jazz studies at MIT.

Click for Rick Nelson's Bio

Information courtesy of Invisible Music


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