Owen Broder – Heritage: The American Roots Project – ArtistShare 

Deeply comforting Americana roots blend…

Owen Broder – Heritage: The American Roots Project – ArtistShare  #A50158 – 62:23 – ****1/2

(Owen Broder – leader, woodwinds; Sara Caswell – violin; Scott Wendholt – trumpet, flugelhorn; Nick Finzer – trombone; James Shipp – vibraphone, percussion; Frank Kimbrough – piano; Jay Anderson – bass; Matt Wilson – drums; Wendy Gilles, Kate McGarry, Vuyo Sotashe – vocals)

Owen Broder has hit the musical jackpot with his exploration of American roots genres blending bluegrass, blues, folk, and spiritual idioms with a jazz swing feel that both warms the heart and provides a feeling of comfort and elation. It is much easier to experience than to describe.

For lovers of Aaron Copland, Mark O’Connor, and Maria Schneider (and there are many of us), this is music to crave in these turbulent times. A brass fanfare, a soaring violin jig, and an ensemble blend are some of the features that weave in and out of both the original compositions, as well as the staple roots tracks (“Jambalaya,” “Cripple Creek,” “Wayfaring Stranger”), among the nine numbers on this CD.

This is obviously a labor of love from Broder, and he is blessed by the contributions from some of the best composers and arrangers on the scene today. They include Ryan Truesdell (founder of the Gil Evans Project); Jim McNeely (Vanguard Jazz Orchestra); jazz legend Bill Holman; trumpeter, Alphonso Horne; and Japanese band leader Miho Hazama, whose music spans jazz and classical chamber.

An octet (see listing above) brings vibrancy to Broder’s vision and three tracks feature vocals from Wendy Gilles, Vuyo Sotashe, and the brilliant Kate McGarry. This self funded ArtistShare project was produced by Ryan Truesdell and recorded at Bunker Studios in New York City in August, 2017. The acoustics are first rate.

Owen’s “Goin’ Up Home” was influenced by Appalachian folk music, but soon takes on jazz influences with brass fanfares. James Shipp’s vibes sparkle and Nick Finzer’s trombone adds a burnished enhancement. The horns soar as an ensemble. “Wherever the Road Leads” from Miho Hazama, finds Broder soloing on alto sax with brass counterpoint, and Sara Caswell’s violin adding accents, as well, in a reinterpretation of more Appalachian folk meeting jazz. Caswell brings in a jig before the octet really branches out. I felt a Coplandesque influence here as well.

“Jambalaya,” arranged by Bill Holman, brings to mind the Crescent City and Caswell just shines as Joe Venuti is channeled. Scott Wendholt’s trumpet is featured. “Cripple Creek” is arranged by Jim McNeely, with many short solos, and its bluegrass roots are turned topsy turvy with changing textures. ‘”Wayfaring Stranger” begins with a somber piano introduction by Frank Kimbrough, before a haunting vocal from Kate McGarry and Wendy Gilles (and Vuyo Sotashe in the last chorus). Its plaintive lyrics describe a soul on its journey through life. It’s been covered by artists ranging from Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, to Jack White and Ed Sheeran. Jay Anderson’s bass solo adds to the melancholy.

Gillian Welch’s “I’m Not Afraid to Die” begins with a floating melody and then flourishes with sublime flugelhorn accompaniment by Scott Wendholt. Ryan Truesdell’s “Brodeo” brings Copland’s “Rodeo” hoedown square into bluegrass fiddle meets jazz. It is pure Americana and a joy to take in. Sara Caswell’s violin will have you in pure bliss.

Alphonso Horne’s “The People Could Fly” bridges Bantu folk music from South Africa with an African American spiritual feel led by the vocals of Vuyo Sotashe. “Karuka” the word for “to fly” is repeated throughout. The American Roots Project ends with Owen Broder’s “A Wiser Man Than Me.” Owen’s baritone sax brings us back into the church with its improvisation around a single melody with a New Orleans horn vibe.

Heritage is a CD to treasure for fans of American roots music. With a wide musical palette, it honors the best of the diversity of the musical expression that the USA provides to the world. It is needed more now than ever.

Goin’ Up Home
Wherever This Road Leads
Cripple Creek
Wayfaring Stranger
I’m Not Afraid to Die
The People Could Fly
A Wiser Man Than Me

—Jeff Krow

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