ANDY McKEE and NEXT:
Picture this: Miles exciting, late sixties horn blend, the rhythmic urge of a Mingus solo, a note-bending, bluesy electric guitarand Mapleshade sound. Thats Sound Roots. The mood here is modern, blues-tinged McKee plays the devil out of the bass, as his performances with the Mingus Big Band, Elvin Jones and others have proved. His walking lines are wrist-thick, filled with limber notes; his intonation is spot-on 41ž2 Stars, according to Down Beat. Andys feel-it-in-the-floor bass propels the gorgeously natural-sounding horns and the warm electric guitar. Billy Kilsons drums are excitingly splashy and dynamic The originals by McKee are irresistible. Their rhythmic twists and turns, their surprising changes in mood keep me riveted. Features Alex Foster on sax locked ultra-tight with Ryan Kisor on trumpet, backed by Ed Cherrys soulful, Bensonesque electric guitar. (#04432)
Andy McKee, bass
More info on Andy McKee
This intriguing date pivots around the protean bass of Andy McKee, best known for his sound footings for the tumultuous Mingus Big Band. Here, McKee steps to the fore with NEXT, a genuinely progressive post-fusion unit in which echoes of Mingus, Ornette and Frisell resound with serious yet playful abandon. Now several years old McKee's tightly knit quintet features electric guitarist Ed Cherry, saxophonist Alex Foster, trumpeter Ryan Kisor and drummer Billy Kilson. It's a dynamic line-up. Solos and ensembles crackle.
With a galvanizing postmodern mix suggesting both the discipline of Blakey's Jazz Messengers and the openness of Ornette's Harmolodicians, the band draws us in with a seductively intimate sound. There are fireworks as in McKee's time-tricky Blues Interrogation. Then, in tracks like Top Hat, a loping pulse, a wave of epigrammatic flights, and a sly come-hither vamp carry the day. Along with McKee's program of ear-catching originals, there's a riveting retake of Miles' All Blues. Strong!
Andy McKee plays the devil out of the bass, as his performances with the Mingus Big Band, Elvin Jones and others have proved. His walking lines are wrist-thick, filled with limber notes; his intonation is spot-on; and he might as well be sitting behind the drums given his time feel. The cat can solo, too, letting loose singing phrases that have a horn-like shape.
You hear all that on Sound Roots, which features McKee's quintet, NEXT. The album shows that this youthful journeyman can write to boot. Both as a dynamic composer and fearless, resourceful arranger (All Blues), McKee consistently turns to the unexpected, keeping the listener happily surprised.
The mood here is modern, blues-tinged, energized, swinging, unfettered. There are references to Mingus, naturally, Coltrane (the lyric turn of the title track) and Miles, but this music has a personal sound not quite like anyone else's.
The collection is a series of choice moments that can be enjoyed repeatedly, and, I would imagine, for many years as well. All Blues rides in on a windstorm from Kilson's drums, the head stated languorously over this foment. Then solos from Kisor and Foster, two distinctive, different and decidedly under recognized stylists, are heard over a repeating bass vamp. Blues Interrogation segues from a punchy melody and group free improv (back and forth four times) to a gutsy slow blues that's just seven bars long. Here, Kisor interweaves intricate, juicy lines with simpler ones and Cherry, another unsung musician, drops in ringing chords he relishes texture and fierce lines that show his fondness for B.B. King, et.al.
Hilltop Stomp is a Mingus-esque 12/8 blues, à la Better Git Hit In Your Soul. Bluiett, digging into his blues bag, cooks within the changes, and then without them. 56 Blows, written after the initial Rodney King verdict, is anger in music. With Cherry offering searing lines over tempestuous beats from Kilson and McKee, this is not a pleasant track but its meaning is razor-sharp. U-Turn finds Foster and Kisor soloing simultaneously over a single chord, creating a unified sound seemingly without intent.
McKee is not adverse to beauty: both his Inner Circle and In A Perfect World are moving and tender, as is Cherry's leaning toward-pop Andrea.
A definite plus here is the superb audio, a Mapleshade standard. Recorded direct to analog (then transferred to digital) without as much as a mixing board, let alone overdubs, the sound here is live and large. Details are everywhere, with Kilson's set so clean that his slightest change of inflection is discernible.
With Sound Roots, McKee joins a growing group of bassist/leaders who show they not only know music, they can make splendid recordings. Well done.
On the grounds of an old tobacco plantation in Upper Marlboro, Maryland lies the home of a recording studio called Mapleshade. Mapleshade's no-nonsense approach to recording makes them an audiophile's dream. Hamiet Bluiett has been producing albums for Mapleshade in his quest to bring recognition to musicians that have been overlooked by major labels. Andy McKee's Sound Roots is the seventh volume in Bluiett's Explorations series. McKee, the bassist for the Mingus Big Band and Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, has been the first bassist-director of the Mingus Big Band since Mingus himself. The Philadelphia native has been developing his quintet, NEXT, for the past few years. NEXT features McKee on bass, Ed Cherry on guitar, Alex Foster on saxophones, Ryan Kisor on trumpet, and Billy Kilson on drums.
McKee starts Top Hat, a tune that grew from a sound check riff, with a series of big, fat plucks. Foster's hard-blowing intensity compliments Cherry's immensely resonant, lyrical sound. Kilson aggressively attacks the toms and snares on 56 Blows, McKee's response to the anger and frustration he felt over the Rodney King verdict. Kilson's furious rant lasts throughout this five minute drum solo. Bluiett's haunting, hollow sound dominates the lower registers of Hilltop Stomp, a tune he guests on, literally getting off the couch of the recording studio to play. Bluiett's liberal grooves are one of the many highlights of a stimulating hour of music.
McKee may bring about comparisons to Mingus, but McKee is planting his own roots and carries on the uncompromising music generating from an old tobacco plantation in the backwoods of Maryland.
From the Explorations series supervised by baritonist Hamiet Bluiett (who guests) comes the debut offering from bassist/composer Andy McKee and his quintet, NEXT. The wail of the blues and the polyrhythmic of this material bespeak the leader's two principal associations drummer Elvin Jones' Jazz Machine and the Mingus Big Band. But equally integral to the success of this postbop production are McKee's composing style and his chamberlike instrumental configuration: Eschewing piano, the leader fashions a fluid, tight-knit ensemble ethos by employing guitarist Ed Cherry along with saxist Alex Foster, pocket trumpeter Ryan Kisor and drummer Billy Kilson. Recorded live to two-track analog without overdubs, mixing or noise reduction (as all Mapleshade CDs are), Sound Roots is full and flavorful without being the least bit predictable. Choice cuts include the title track and 56 Blows (written in anger after the cops were acquitted in the Rodney King case).
August 18, 1997