Saxophonist Jason Rigby's new album, ONE, is the long-awaited release of his Detroit-Cleveland Trio. Rigby's first two recordings employed larger ensembles as he worked to find his own artistic balance as composer, bandleader, and improviser. This new album is more intimate, putting improvisation first, both from the leader and from the group collectively. The focus of ONE is the connection between three players of different generations, who meet to form a unity of like-minded artists, bending the boundaries between inside and outside. Most of the pieces are Rigby originals.
"I've been composing for this band in a way that gives each player enough compositional material to grab on to, but not too much to stifle open-ended improvisation. Ultimately this recording is about freewheeling improvisation and the unique connection that we have formed over the past 6 years performing together as a trio."
That unique sound has its roots in development for more than a decade. Cameron Brown has been with Rigby in various formats since 2005, and Gerald Cleaver first played with the saxophonist in 2001. "I initially played with Gerald on bassist Eivind Opsvik's debut release, and then did some European touring with him shortly after with bassist Thomas Morgan. I've been a fan of Cameron's since hearing him play with Idris Muhammed in Joe Lovano's trio, and on record with the George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet. I knew that putting Cameron and Gerald together would be an extremely exciting concoction."
In addition to the dazzling alchemic pairing of Brown and Cleaver, Rigby's formation of this trio was an homage to the band members' Midwest roots - Brown and Cleaver from Detroit and Rigby from Cleveland. Both cities have fostered a lengthy list of jazz luminaries, with the Midwest long being a fertile cradle for musical talent.
The result is an ensemble that deeply grooves, has a strong predilection for free improvisation, and is visionary while respecting the lineage of the music. The trio's cohesiveness is enhanced by the musicians' abilities to effortlessly dance between inside and out playing - no doubt evidence of three experienced players sharing similar artistic ideas.
"'ONE" refers to the musical unity the three of us have with each other," Rigby explains. "There is a deep trust we share with one another, allowing for greater risk-taking. The music is always first, so I know whatever happens, we all have each other's back. Playing with these guys is always an adventure - I never really know what's going to happen, which is exciting."
The album opens with "Dive Bar," a fiery tenor saxophone and drums duet. "I love drummers, and I've been fortunate to play with some really great ones over the past several years." Rigby refers to his work in various situations with the likes of Mark Guiliana, Brian Blade, Tom Rainey, Billy Hart, Rudy Royston, Mark Ferber, and R.J. Miller, to name a few. The title "Dive Bar" refers to the now too-few classic New York City musical haunts, such as the original Five Spot, where bands played night after night. "The great bands that played together nightly formed a deep cohesion, such as with the Miles Davis Quintets." Rigby says. "Cameron, Gerald and I have played together a lot over the years in various formats, which has resulted in a strong bond, and I feel we have developed a unique sound as a group. 'Dive Bar' is a very simple 2-part theme, built to spark the bulk of the performance of uncharted improvisation."
The second track, "Dorian Gray," is inspired by the Oscar Wilde work. "It's is built on 2 opposing themes - the first being an odd-meter ostinato that evolves and shifts into the second, a settled yet slightly askew bass ostinato with a contrasting melody on top." This track showcases the trio's unity with the timing between drum and bass groove, complicated rhythms, and angular melody lining up perfectly.
The third track is a departure from Rigby's original compositions, Rodgers & Hart's "You Are Too Beautiful." "This tune that was a big inspiration for me - mainly from the recordings of John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, and a live Sonny Rollins performance from the late 1950's," explains Rigby. "I read that Dewey Redman expressed frustration with listeners pigeon-holing his playing, as he stated that he loved to play free as much as he loved to play an old standard ballad. The love for both is something I share with Mr. Redman." Cameron Brown's bass solo stretches the time with such patience and musical intent, in a way that wonderfully illuminates his highly melodic style.
Track four, "Newtoon," is a composition by one of Rigby's favorite drummers, George Schuller. The melody is a flowing line that moves through several tonalities in rubato style. The players slip seamlessly into group improvising, while maintaining a consistent thread of connection to the original melody. "I love the idea of playing a tune in a way where the lines between composed material and improvisation become blurred," explains Rigby. "George is such a melodic player on the drums, which is expressed in his composing. I love the way Cameron and Gerald play this piece as if they wrote it."
The Herbie Hancock composition "Speak Like A Child" is track five, and features Rigby's cascading soprano saxophone. "This is another of my favorite compositions, which we pare down into the trio. The absence of a harmonic instrument allows us to stretch into more freedom and space, which I feel has become a defining aspect of this band."
The sixth track is a Rigby original, "Live By The Sword," a free-flowing melodic unison between tenor and bass. Cleaver's swirling playing is particularly atmospheric here. After wisps of melody and space, the performance builds to an intense final statement.
Rigby chose to record a solo version Gershwin's "Embraceable You" for track seven, another of his favorite standards. He begins with an introspective theme that develops into the tune, yet he never fully plays the original melody. The quietest track on the recording, Rigby weaves his improvised lines around the essence of the composition with patience and thoughtful melodic development.
The final track, "Dewey," is part of a suite of music that Rigby composed a few years ago dedicated to saxophonist Dewey Redman and pianist Paul Bley. Beginning with a call-and-response of rhythmic hits and flurrying melodies, the band plunges red-hot into group improvising. Rigby plays with ferocious intensity while Brown and Cleaver stoke the fire. A powerful ending to a varied collection of pieces, this track reveals this band's capacity for primal screaming emotion.
"ONE" is the first of a series of recordings that Rigby plans to release over the next couple of years, showcasing this band of unique unity and vision. They celebrate the CD release on April 29th at The Jazz Gallery in New York City. For more information and tickets, visit jazzgallery.nyc.
Increasingly considered one of the most creative and unique saxophonists of his generation, Jason Rigby has developed a unique voice as a compelling improviser, as well as a composer. An in-demand sideman, Rigby currently tours and records with Mark Guilliana's Jazz Quartet and Beat Music, and has performed with a wide variety of musicians including Chris Morrissey, Kris Davis, Russ Lossing, Owen Howard, Kermit Driscoll, Dan Wall, Mike Baggetta, Eivind Opsvik, Mike Holober, Jeff Davis, Alan Ferber, David Binney, and Aretha Franklin.