Thursday, May 26, 2016

The neo-jazz sextet Ratatet - led by drummer/composer Alan Hall - dissolves genres and expands musical horizons on debut album, Arctic

With its audacious frontline of trombone and electric bassoon, the Bay Area-based sextet Ratatet is no run-of-the-mill jazz ensemble. The adventuresome spirit exemplified by the band's novel instrumentation is also reflected in leader Alan Hall's cliché-free and melody-rich compositions on Arctic, the outfit's genre-dissolving debut recording. Incorporating prime elements of jazz (from mainstream to fusion), funk, rock, South American idioms and classical music, Ratatet categorically rejects rigid categorization. The band, featuring Alan Hall on drums, Paul Hanson on bassoon and tenor saxophone, John Gove on trombone, Dillon Vado on vibraphone, Greg Sankovich on keyboards and Jeff Denson on acoustic and electric bass and vocals, blends sterling musicianship with unbounded creativity, taking full advantage of the inclusive freedom that characterizes the best of new millennium jazz. In addition, Paul McCandless, a member of the famed group, Oregon, is a guest on the album's last track.  

Hall's eleven strikingly melodic original compositions can build off of spirited rhythms ("Electrick," "Red State, Blue State,"  "Word By Word," "Gataxi") or paint effectively moody landscapes ("Arctic," "Returning"). Binding everything together is the singable quality of Hall's writing. "I thought in terms of tight pop song-like structures" he says, "melodies that were stimulating yet accessible and memorable." Full blooded yet succinct improvisations from Hanson and Gove, along with concise and noteworthy contributions from the others, enrich the performances. The darker, low-toned quality of the unique trombone-bassoon front line is cushioned by an active and supportive rhythm section bolstered by the inspired inclusion of Vado's atmospheric vibraphone. Although Hall cites such significant influences as jazz icons Pat Metheny, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea, as well as classical masters including Ravel, Debussy and Copland, his own music has thoroughly assimilated its sources and found its own voice. The result is thoroughly contemporary jazz that owes its identity to no other composer or ensemble.

A respected drummer and educator, who has taught at Berklee College of Music, and worked with Cirque Du Soleil, Lee Konitz, Art Lande and Geoffrey Keezer, Hall brings the full range of his broad experience to his sextet. "It's hard to define Ratatet's music," Hall claims, "I purposely avoid limiting it to one genre. I also want to explore the full range of what the band's instrumentation can offer. Some songs call for funky electric bass, others for bowing on the acoustic bass. Some songs need organ, some need a muted trombone and a vocal. It's great having this sonic versatility."

Of special interest is bassoonist Paul Hanson's occasional employment of startling sonic effects on his electrified instrument as in "Gataxi," where his unaccompanied introduction and vigorous exchanges with trombonist Gove reveal a boldly altered bassoon tone. Hanson emerges as an integral key to the band's unique approach. "Paul is a Bay Area fixture." Hall asserts, "Anyone who has heard him knows he's one of a kind." Paul and the other members of Ratatet have performed with such celebrated artists as Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Lee Konitz, Ralph Alessi, Dennis Chambers, Cuong Vu, and Pete Escovedo.

A visual artist as well as a musician-composer, Hall was inspired by celebrated works from a host of iconic painters. Song titles including "Basquiat (inspired by Jean Michel Basquiat)" "What Cy's Eyes See (inspired Cy Twombly)" and "The Marriage of Arnolfini" confirm the links between his passions. For the musicians in Ratatet, Arctic is as personally revealing as an artist's brushstroke. As Hall states, "the truth of who you are is on display."

Ridgeway Records is dedicated to the recording and perpetuation of jazz and related styles of music. The label is committed to providing artists a platform to promote improvisation, artistic growth and audience development. The label is a part of Ridgeway Arts, Inc. - a new non-profit serving the Bay-Area jazz scene led by renowned jazz bassist, composer, educator, and community activist Jeff Denson.  The organization is built upon a series of initiatives designed to enhance and fortify the Bay Area scene, and to make a strong contribution to the national landscape of jazz and the arts in general. Ridgeway Arts will present concerts, organize educational and community outreach activities, and more.

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