CD offers trip into ‘Brave New World’ and all that jazz
Ryan Summerlin November 23, 2011
The album title “Brave New World” also was the name of novelist Aldous Huxley’s societal statement about the consequences of technological advancements.
A contrast to that image is this constant: Niall McGuinness and the New World Jazz Project will perform each week at the Fresh Ketch. McGuinness, in various band configurations, has regularly performed at the restaurant for 10 years.
A decade-long anniversary coincides with the CD release of “Brave New World,” 10 tight tracks of tasteful jazz.
“It was a duo in 2001, then we had a trio,” McGuinness said. “As a quartet, we’ve been there eight years. It’s probably the longest continually running jazz gig between Reno and Sacramento, and I am grateful to the Fresh Ketch to have the courage to continue that, because jazz is not really a commercial medium, per se. We’ve been able to cultivate an audience.”
McGuinness plays tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, flute and percussion on the second New World Jazz Project album. Eric Middleton plays marimba, timbales and congas, Eric Finkelstein is on drums, Kyle Rothchild bass and Garett Grow piano.
“Within the context of the composition, I gave each guy free reign,” McGuinness said. “Because we’re a working band, we’ve been able to morph the originals and the arrangements on the bandstand, so to that end there’s some of everybody on the arrangements.”
The musicians’ rapport also led to efficient recording sessions at the Sierra Sonics Recording Mansion in Reno with Doug Vaughn and Alex Viscotti. It was mixed by Justin Weis at Trakworx in San Francisco.
A follow-up to 2007’s “Limpopo,” the new record offers smart song selections and sequencing, including four well-known covers and an original, “Life of Ease,” which other bands will want to cover.
Here’s a look at the 10 tracks with some comments from McGuinness:
McGuinness gets the listener’s attention with his tenor sax and a fast-paced rendition of a recognizable tune. “It’s very important to go from the known to the unknown, (and) The Beatles are great vehicles for any type of music, particularly jazz. It starts out on 2 and 4, and I come in on the upbeat. It’s a musical device to throw the listener a curveball.”
“Limpopo” was a travelogue, and “Brave New World” has a few vacation-inspired tracks, such as this multi-layered African tune featuring percussion, marimba, flute and Fender Rhodes piano.
Dave Brubeck’s song might be as recognizable as any in jazz, and this version has a salsa groove in double time.
“Mary’s Sassy Ram”
This palindrome was inspired by Niall’s wife, Mary, and it alludes to the album cover photo taken in Scotland a decade ago.
“Ain’t No Sunshine”
A reggae take (“I know, I know”) on the Bill Withers’ song features Rothchild and Grow.
“For the Birds”
Another Latin tune which came to McGuinness in his yard. “I was filling up the bird feeders. I had a bag of bird seed and I was shaking it and started singing a little motif, and that was the little germ for that tune.”
“Life of Ease”
The title contrasts the name of the album. McGuinness wrote the song 35 years ago during his time as a cab driver in Miami. The bebop tune is a highlight.
When you hear the flute, you learn about another vacation, this one to Venice. Middleton’s bongos and Finkelstein’s drums set the table.
No need to worry about paying royalties on this 1600s masterpiece. The arrangement came to McGuinness in one night in Britain when he was in the Fulbright Program.
This song differs from the others, the obvious reason it comes at the end. It has a smooth jazz sound, leaving the listener in a reflective, dreamlike state as if flying home at the end a trip.