Raised in an eclectic musical household, Natalie Cressman has only continued to diversify and expand her musical universe. Still in her early 20s, the trombonist, composer, and vocalist has assimilated the full range of her sonic influences into a startlingly mature, strikingly original voice that melds the sophistication of modern jazz with captivating storytelling and intoxicating melodies reminiscent of indie rock's most distinctive songwriters.
Cressman has spent much of the last three years touring the jam band circuit with Phish's Trey Anastasio, while also performing with jazz luminaries Nicholas Payton, Wycliffe Gordon, and Peter Apfelbaum. Those varied experiences are reflected on her gorgeous second release, Turn the Sea. Anastasio calls the album "a beacon of light in an increasingly cold and mechanized era of music. Natalie is standing on the precipice of an incredible life in music, and if this album is any indication of where she's headed, then I'll be listening every step of the way."
Inspired in part by those bandleaders' boundary-blurring approaches, Turn the Sea reveals a sound that's utterly uncategorizable but instantly accessible, one that belies but is also a product of Cressman's youth. "I want to make music that my own generation can respond to," Cressman says. "I would really love for anyone to listen to my music and find something to relate to. I don't want to shut people out by being overly sophisticated and esoteric, even though everything I write is jazz-based and more dynamic and spontaneous than a lot of the music that is wildly popular."
The disc features a stellar eight-piece band, largely culled from Cressman's Bay Area peers: trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg, flutist and clarinetist Steven Lugerner, saxophonist James Casey, keyboardist Samora Pinderhughes, guitarist Gabe Schneider, bassist Jonathan Stein, and drummer Michael Mitchell join the bandleader, who sings and plays trombone. The two talents, she says, are intimately related. "I think the fact that I sing influences and affects the way I play the trombone and vice versa. The voice in my head that I write with and play with and sing with is the same, but the medium is different."
Cressman switched coasts in 2009 to study at the Manhattan School of Music, and the following year was enlisted by jam band pioneer Trey Anastasio for his touring band. "I first met Natalie when she was 18, and I was instantly floored by how melodically and naturally she played and sang," Anastasio says. "Natalie is the rarest of musicians. Born into a musical family and raised in a home filled with the sounds of Brazilian music, jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms, she is seeping with innate musicality. Musicality is in her DNA."
Following her jazz-oriented debut, Unfolding, with the more song-based Turn the Sea was at least partially a result of her tenure with Anastasio, Cressman says. "Trey always wants to include the audience, but he doesn't dumb down his music to do it. I find myself between two worlds with the music that I'm writing; it's not bread and butter jazz but it's not wholly anything else either."
The album also features songs by two of Cressman's inspirations, reconfigured for her ensemble and voice. Norwegian singer-songwriter Hanne Hukkelberg provides "Do Not As I Do," while "Blindsided" is a song by indie favorite Bon Iver. The latter maintains the ethereal mood conjured by the original. "He gets a lot of mileage out of not too much," Cressman says of Bon Iver singer-songwriter Justin Vernon. "I'm trying to discover how little I can write and still have it mean as much as possible."
Upcoming Natalie Cressman Performances:
March 20 / Church of Boston / Boston, MA
March 21 / Nectar's / Burlington, VT
March 22 / Smoke Signals / Lake Placid, NY
March 26 / River Street Jazz Café / Plains, PA
March 27 / The Press Room / Portsmouth, NH
March 28 / The Main Pub / Manchester, CT
March 30 / Joe's Pub / New York, NY