Tenor saxophonist, composer, and arranger Russ Nolan continues his exploration of Latin rhythms on his fourth CD Relentless, which will be released by his Rhinoceruss Music label on January 21. Picking up where last year's critically acclaimed Tell Me left off, Relentless features the contributions of Grammy-nominated Cuban pianist Manuel Valera as well as Tell Me's rhythm section of Michael O'Brien on bass and drummer Brian Fishler.
Nolan's concern with rhythm began coming into clear focus in the late 1980s, when he was living in Chicago. Then-teenage saxophonist Chris Potter came through town with Red Rodney's band and gave Nolan the first of what would become many lessons. "He could have talked to me about scales and harmony and all this other stuff," Nolan recalls, "but he really impressed upon me that the horn player has to have the same mastery of time as the rhythm section and can't rely on them to carry him along."
Having taken up salsa dancing nearly seven years ago has further served to strengthen Nolan's rhythmic sensibility. "Instead of just having the music in my head, it's also in my body," he explains. "It's something that's natural for drummers because they play such a physical instrument, but for somebody who just moves their fingers and occasionally their head, as a horn player I feel the music differently than I used to."
Afro-Cuban grooves as well as samba and Bomba beats infuse Nolan's originals, including "Cassa Cerrado," one of a number of tunes on the album that the saxophonist wrote during a seven-month engagement at a midtown Manhattan hotel as the leader of an organ trio that included drummer Fishler, and the samba "It Ain't Child's Play," one of three tunes featuring percussionist Yasuyo Kimura. Also included on Relentless are Nolan's readings of the Stephen Sondheim ballad "Not While I'm Around" (from Sweeney Todd) and Duke Ellington's "Solitude."
Russ NolanRuss Nolan, 45, born in Waukegan, Illinois, and raised in nearby Gurnee. He took up clarinet at age 10 and switched to saxophonist a couple years later because, he says, "I was attracted to the sound and the power that I wasn't finding on clarinet." Although he played in his high school marching and jazz bands, playing basketball and baseball were his primary passions and he dreamed of one day becoming a professional athlete.
He eventually turned his focus back to music and spent three and a half years at the University of North Texas, studying saxophone and jazz arranging and earning a B.A. in jazz performance. During a summer vacation from North Texas, he studied with legendary Chicago tenor saxophonist Joe Daley. Nolan moved to the city after graduation and studied with local saxophonist Rich Corpolongo and with visiting New Yorkers Chris Potter, Dave Liebman, and Kenny Werner. In 2000, pianist Werner convinced Nolan to move to New York City -- and would play on the saxophonist's 2008 CD With You in Mind (Nolan's debut recording was 2004's Two Colors).
A 10-year resident of Sunnyside, Queens, Nolan has performed with his own group at Smalls Jazz Club and Jazz at the Kitano, both in New York City, and in Canada, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Orleans, Chicago, and Washington, DC. He frequently conducts workshops and clinics while on tour. He's a member of an all-star band that has been playing for jazz services at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on Manhattan's Upper West Side once a month for the past decade and since March 2013 has been playing for dancers with his own salsa quintet.
Russ Nolan will celebrate the release of Relentless with upcoming shows in Chicago and New York. On Tuesday 1/21 he plays two sets at the Jazz Showcase, Chicago, with Jim Trompeter, piano; Larry Gray, bass; and Jon Deitemyer, drums. He brings the band from his new CD (Manuel Valera, Michael O'Brien, Brian Fishler) to the Kitano Hotel in New York on Friday 3/21.