BY George Halas
While it has been Monty Python that provides the on-going inspiration, The Inquisition, like its 15th Century namesake, agrees that confession is good for the soul.
It is in that spirit that The Inquisition confesses to and apologizes for recalling the words of Dan Aykroyd and thinking that “Mangled Baby Ducks” sizzles more than “Lawrence Jazz Faculty Quintet,” which is the name attached to the 4 p.m. slot on the Fox Jazz Festival Saturday program.
But, showcasing its characteristic and almost legendary depth and astute analysis, The Inquisition has discovered that this actually might be THE blueprint for building a fabulous jazz band.
“You can thank John Harmon,” said cellist Matt Turner of the Fox Jazz Festival artistic director. “He wanted us all to play in some format, so he said ‘put together your dream team.”
Turner, a multi-instrumentalist himself, fashioned a group where, “Everyone is versatile and coming from different places…that includes drummer-percussionist Dane Richeson, bassist Mark Urness, Jose Encarnacion playing saxophones and flutes and Bill Carrothers playing piano. Overall, that is one hell of a group,” Harmon noted.
Perhaps the most important consideration is that a world-class quintet was assembled, not in New York or Chicago or New Orleans, but in Appleton.
Richeson, Urness and Encarnacion often perform as a trio while Turner and Carrothers dazzled as a duo in the Jazz at The Trout series last year. The Inquisition is thinking that 3 + 2 = fasten your seat belts.
“This is a dream team for me because everyone can sit down and make music. We don’t necessarily need to follow a game plan,” Turner said. “We have the control to go where we don’t know where we’re going.” The “not plan” will include a lot of original compositions, some standards and a fair amount of improvisation.
This will be a reunion of sorts, as Turner, Carrothers, Urness and Encarnacion all played on Richeson’s 2013 album, “Maxim Confit:” Urness and Carrothers contributed original compositions while Encarnacion added an original arrangement to Richeson’s creative and imaginative percussive offerings and envelope-pushing arrangements.
“Dane is both a world-class drummer and a dear friend,” Harmon added. “He is as good as it gets.”
Harmon describes Urness as “an incredible virtuoso and an extremely impressive player.”
“In addition to playing both electric and stand-up bass, Mark is a great composer,” Turner said. “Like Dane, he keeps great time and he has a great feel, but he is also a great listener who reacts very well to what is going on.”
In describing Encarnacion, Harmon may have implied that his technical mastery is a secondary consideration.
“Jose is one of the most gloriously warm human beings,” he said. “He has such a warm heart and there is so much emotion in his playing.”
“Jose is a great player who can play all styles as well as an outstanding composer,” Turner said. “He has a big, rich sound and he, too, is a great listener who reacts very well to what is going on.”
Turner is also excited about the harmonic and sonic possibilities that present when his electric cello meets Encarnacion’s saxophone. “There are times when we blend and I can’t tell which of us is playing which note.”
Harmon, rumored to be a fair piano player himself, is a big fan of Carrothers.
“I simply admire him and just love his playing,” Harmon said. “He gets colors and rhythms that are all his own.”
The trust and familiarity between Turner and Carrothers will provide a foundation for the ambitious and adventurous program that group is undertaking.
“Bill can play anything,” Turner said. “If I ask him to play a rag, he plays a rag. If I ask him to play a fugue, he plays a fugue in his own way. I know he’s going to be there.”
So far, the “dream team” includes a drummer, bassist, keys and sax – fairly standard composition of a jazz quartet…including Turner and his electric cello adds a unique dimension to the sound and the music.
“Matt is an absolute imaginative genius and has a great sense of humor,” Harmon said. “He is one of the greatest musicians in the area. He is not only a world-class cellist, he is a very good piano player as well.”
This grouping will be one of the highlights of a star-studded Fox Jazz Festival. If the stars align properly, the quintet will take its considerable improvisational talent to the Holiday Inn Riverwalk in Neenah where The Noah Harmon Trio will once again anchor the festival’s open jam.
Over the years, this event has developed into one of the more pleasantly surprising aspects of the fest. It is predictably unpredictable, with many of the stars of the fest joining the best of the best local talent for what often becomes transcendent playing. Many who attended last year’s jam still recall the once-in-a-lifetime music that emanated from the combination of Harmon, bassist Andy Mertens, trumpeter Bob Levy and drummer/headliner Matt Wilson.
If one happens to take advantage of the Holiday Inn Riverwalk’s special Fox Jazz Festival rate, the jam also sets up as the best place to end up Saturday night with just a short walk to your room…
The Noah Harmon Trio also plays a key role in another interesting and unique aspect of the Fox Jazz Festival, the High School Improvisation Contest. This year’s winners, guitarist and first-place finisher Juliana Voelker of Pulaski High School and saxophonist Hank Laritson of Xavier High School will be both perform with the trio as part of the Saturday program.
Lastly, as a public service, The Inquisition will draw on its vast knowledge and experience to reveal that one of the complaints about recent fest’s has been “too much sunshine.’ Ignoring the notion that anyone is Wisco would complain about sunshine in September, The Inquisition astutely points out that the periphery of Jefferson Park has a plethora of tall shade trees. Early arrivals – the fest starts at noon both days – will have it made in the shade.
The Inquisition just had to write that…