Title: In Memory of Mark Whitecage (Live at the BopShop)
By: The NU Band
Catalog No: MW-2 1019-2
Price: 12 EUR
1. Prayer for the Water Protectors (4:03)
2. Five O'Clock Follies (10:23)
3. One for Roy (6:31)
4. The Closer You Are, the Further It Gets (14:17)
5. Christophe and Ornette (9:25)
6. Minor Madness (8:37)
7. Dark Dawn in Aurora (10:27)
Mark Whitecage – alto saxophone, clarinet, Diné flute
Thomas Heberer – quarter-tone trumpet
Joe Fonda – bass & flute
Lou Grassi – drums & percussion
January 18, 2018 at The BopShop in Rochester, NY
What the critics say:
One of the most productive outlets for reedplayer Mark Whitecage in the latter part of his career was The Nu Band, an egalitarian outfit completed by bassist Joe Fonda, drummer Lou Grassi and latterly German trumpeter Thomas Heberer, following the 2014 death of Roy Campbell. Whitecage died on Mar. 7th, 2021 at 83 and this vibrant live recording from Rochester’s famed Bop Shop Records may be his final release. The cooperative nature of the unit is signaled firstly by writing credits shared across the band, but then more emphatically by the practiced group interplay no matter the author.
After the almost ritual opener “Prayer For The Water Protectors”, Whitecage’s alto saxophone soliloquy, replete with woozy slurs and husky
multiphonics, sets up his “The Five O’Clock Follies”, a freebop piece exploding out of the gate and serving as an introduction to the rest of the band who each get a slot. There is an especial joy in their exuberant expression, which even sneaks into the crevices and vortices between the notated elements here and elsewhere, as if they just cannot stop themselves. Fonda personifies infectious swing, which comes with a melodic overlay, while Heberer exploits the capabilities of his quarter-tone trumpet to the full, expanding the textural palette of the group, but also bringing a whiff of pre-bebop styles, meat and drink for Grassi, a free jazz veteran who also helmed a Dixieland group, who consequently solos without any dissipation of momentum whatsoever.
Collective discourse forms the band’s stock in trade, catalyzed by charts offering keen wit, upended expectations and memorable themes. On Fonda’s “Christophe And Ornette”, after scene-setting atmospheric exotica, clarinet spirals in duet with trumpet, until both become more voice than instrument.
Although the interweaving horns form a winning trait, Whitecage enjoys fine moments in his own right throughout, capped by his impassioned alto preaching, affirmed by Heberer’s amens on Grassi’s “Dark Dawn In Aurora”, a dirge with a hopeful spring in its step.
His penchant for blending inside and outside is shared by his bandmates and, together with a leave-it-all-on- the-field ethos, makes this a thoroughly engaging listen and a worthy tribute to an undersung talent.
(review courtesy of Mike Jurkovic and AllaboutJazz)
The Nu Band, an explorative quartet within the avant-garde jazz movement for more than two decades, released a live album that serves as a tribute to its singular saxophonist, Mark Whitecage, who passed away in March last year. This live recording, captured in 2018 at The BopShop in Rochester, New York, features compositions by all four members of the ensemble.
The session opens with two different Whitecage numbers, the flute-infused “Prayer for the Water Protectors” and the animated “Five O’clock Follies”, a spectacular freebop blowout whose frantic short theme immediately takes us to a bass solo solely supported by hi-hat drops. Unison sax-trumpet motifs disintegrate and reshape into autonomous improvisatory rants. The indefatigable swinging drive created by the rhythm section stimulates the horn players who display their attractive language with unlimited confidence. The drummer Lou Grassi also gets a solo taste, vibrantly measuring and articulating before the theme returns to its bones.
“One For Roy” is Thomas Heberer’s tribute to the late trumpeter Roy Campbell, a former member of this quartet whom he replaced in 2014. The group reveals maturity in the interplay as they go from a rubato abstraction disrupted by bursts of tension to a swaggering motion. The second piece brought by the trumpeter, “The Closer You Are, the Further it Gets” is a highlight. Clocking in at 14 minutes, this piece begins with a fantastic solo bass statement in which Joe Fonda shows off his pure intuition, incredible rhythmic control, and great ears for sound. He even rocks at some point, before a 15-note figure takes over. Afterwards, Heberer works on the lower registers before expanding his sound, and Whitecage steps up the game by employing trilling circularity and growling sounds. The group finishes it off in rollicking mode.
After admitting a free, shapeless exploration with clarinet, flute, trumpet and percussion, Fonda’s “Christophe and Ornette” establishes a groove in six over which the horns spill wonderful angularity. The album draws to a close with Grassi’s “Dark Dawn in Aurora”, a mournful piece marked by a patterned marching strut and revealing folk-blues connotations, which had been previously recorded in 2015 to be included on the Nu Band’s album The Cosmological Constant.
The under-recognized Whitecage will be missed; his fans have here another document that brings his soloing capacities to the fore as well as The Nu Band’s sense of shared space and cohesive interplay.
(review courtesy of Filipe and JazzTrail)
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