It's my pleasure to write today about the first TDJ Special Projects presentation of 2014 - the Nancy Walker Quintet CD release, February 27 at Gallery 345.
I've had the good fortune to work with Nancy directly a couple of times here at jazz festival headquarters - she's been a guest artist for the Artistic Director's Guide to Jazz, and a member of a past TDJ Special Projects panel. What I remember best about these interactions is how much thought Nancy put into her role in each setting. While some "gut reaction" is always expected when answering questions or hearing music for the first time, Nancy's comments went far beyond the superficial, always demonstrating a clear thought process behind her opinions or approach to making music.
I feel this thoughtful quality is evident when Nancy performs. For her new release, 'Til Now is Secret, she has clearly spent time thinking about what and how record. She says: "I have become increasingly more interested in exploring non-standard jazz compositional forms, and in writing music in which the sections of improvisation are integral elements of the composition. I am also fascinated by the idea that it is possible for music to contain elements of the avant-garde, yet be accessible to a fairly broad audience."
On February 27 at Gallery 345, we'll get to hear how the thought process Nancy describes above translates into live performance - and we're in for a treat. Nancy's writing is interesting in the best possible ways: it's unique and it's groovy; it's got lots to grab onto for both the musicians performing the compositions and the audience members listening to them. Take for example this track from the new album - Nancy has put the lead line in the bass; plays around with textures, adding and dropping instruments as required; and the drums groove away underneath. Nancy's playing is similar - sometimes inside, sometimes out, and always perfectly suited to the setting in question. I most recently saw her perform with the Danjam Orchestra, and despite performing for the first time with the ensemble, her solos perfectly reflected and complimented the quality of each piece.
The instrumentation on 'Til Now is Secret is similar to Nancy's previous release (New Hieroglyphics), with the addition of Shirantha Beddage - which I find particularly intriguing: on the album Shirantha plays mainly baritone saxophone and bass clarinet (with one track each on soprano and alto saxophones). We don't often get to hear a bass instrument playing lead lines.
The musicians in the quintet - joining Nancy and Shirantha are Ted Quinlan (guitar), Kieran Overs (bass) and Ethan Ardelli (drums) - are all outstanding so it's no surprise that the album sounds as good as it does. But even the best musicians need great compositions on which to chew. With Nancy Walker, great composition - and great piano playing - is a sure thing. Here's a track from New Hieroglyphics, which shows off the kind of playing we'll hear next week.
The Nancy Walker Quintet releases 'Til Now is Secret on Thursday, February 27, 8 pm at Gallery 345. For complete information visit Nancy's concert page on our website.
I hope to see you next Thursday!