Jonathan SARAGA: Journey to a New World – Fresh Sounds New Talent 535, 72.05 (10/1/17) ***½:
Feisty, uptempo post-bop ensemble with agile soloing by Fresh Sound New Talent trumpeter in front.
(Jonathan Saraga; trumpet/ Remy Le Boeuf; alto sax/ Aki Ishiguro; guitar/ Chris Pattishall; piano/keyboards/ Rick Rosato;bass/ Kenneth Salters; drums)
There is scarcely a person who has done more to promote the Jazz of our time (and not only our generation) than Jordi Pujol, who indefatigably works to bring new jazz artists to public attention. It is always with keen appreciation that I audition a new recording on his Fresh Sound New Talent label. On this occasion, we have a bright trumpet player, Jonathan Saraga, leading a sextet on mostly his own compositions.
Things start off promisingly on Uprising. The front line exudes confidence in assertive solos and intricate twining sax/trumpet theme, while the rhythm section gives good account on a propulsive swinging beat that allows a very inventive drummer (Kenneth Salters) latitude for many-handed embellishments and wily accents. Saraga has a bright tone, quick articulation, a penchant for old-school sonic effects, and smeared, pungently bent notes. Alto Remy Le Boeuf demonstrates an extroverted style, but also a fine skill at playing off the trumpet on a paired head.
On the ensuing Great Journey, it is Le Boeuf who makes the greater impression on a hard-driving piece that pushes the sextet into a furious groove and group dust-up. It is an exciting tempest that borders on a shambles. Certainly the band left nothing out.
The Fender Rhodes on Firm Roots is not quite what we ordered. Nor is the non-memorable pop-inflected theme much of an achievement. A garrulous piano solo exhausts one’s patience; Nor is there any sense of pacing or reflection in an alto solo after which the trumpet gives ample demonstration of extended technique on a florid solo.
With Sabbath Prayer, from Fiddler on the Roof, we finally get to hear the sextet slow down and attend to simple musical materials. It seems at first that generous but not excessive amount of a amount of schmalz has been spread on the bread when Aki Ishiguro, spoiling the mood, breaks into a thickly distorted guitar solo of the “teenager-next-door” type. Incongruous but earnest shredding gives way to an air-clearing trumpet solo before the reprise of the sweet melody.
The Guardians deploys the sextet at their preferred uptempo boil. It should be mentioned that Rick Rosato does a very fine job steering the juggernaut from the bass position. Remy sounds conventionally good, while Saraga stays determined to play just a few more notes than his sideman–no mean feat. I have long looked askance at the use of the mute in jazz trumpet playing, but I must confess that I miss the implement on this session. The clarion tone and relentless forte playing of the leader is aurally taxing.
Lullaby is nicely put together. Even the musicians are surprised by their discovery of soft playing. The hard-working bassist takes a good solo, the trumpet solo shows improved concentration, and the pianist makes the best of a chorus or two. A tricky unison shows the group at its most alert. However, the subsequent Fool on the Hill is a questionable choice. The plundering of the Fab Four Real Book yields serviceable pop reference points for a non-jazz audience but distinctly unfresh as a composition.
New World ends things on a boisterous ramble on a waltz rhythm. Jordi’s young players are indeed, fresh and talented. This outing lacked for nothing in the excitement and virtuosity department. I can readily imagine this group sorting out some oddities in the ensemble sound, perhaps subtracting keyboards or guitar, and lifting the repertoire a bit. On the whole, it is safe to say that fans of Fresh Sound will likely find something to admire in this ambitious recording.
Jonathan Sarago, photo by Maryann Lopinto