Epic Journey, Vols. I & II
Epic Journey, Vols. I & II
New York, NY
“A trend I notice all too often, is that a group will be learning the music either a couple days before the recording session, or reading it for the first time in the studio. I am proud to say this is not the case with my next recording.” says Saxophone player and composer Adam Niewood.
Four years after his debut recording, Manhattan based saxophone player and composer Adam Niewood finds a new home for his music on the Innova Recordings label: releasing a double CD of mostly original and some free compositions, featuring a crew of New York City’s finest up and coming creative musicians: Kristjan Randalu, Jesse Lewis, Chris Higgins, Matt Brewer, Rohin Khemani, Greg Ritchie.
Drummer and record producer Bill Goodwin (who produced Adam’s first recording as a leader in 2004) noticed a large volume of original compositions growing in Niewood’s book. Many of the songs having specific moods, grooves, and structures all their own.
“We had been playing a lot of this music for the past two to three years. Due to scheduling, different musicians had rotated through the band. When it came time to record, there was more than one person for each role in the rhythm section who had put in serious time learning the music, and performing it. I wanted to include all the musicians who were active in the growth of the sound of the band and my compositions. Serendipitously, for three consecutive days all of my favorite musicians and best friends were all available!!! When we recorded, everyone was extremely familiar with the repertoire, no one was reading. There was a lot of listening and communication. It was a great experience, my creative vision made a reality, and I am really proud of the final outcome.”
Adam Niewood reminds me a lot of Dave Binney, evoking almost exactly the same wacky sensibility on "Where's the Cat???" with its long, loping melodic figures and Rhodes-inspired friendly-eccentricity, as Binney does on any of his recent estimable discs: one of the coolest moves on the planet. But he takes it one step beyond.
Listen: this is huge. Adam Niewood is carving out an important-nay, essential-niche in early new millennium jazz: hip, eclectic, worldly, rockish, conversant with the widest possible influences, combining the most unlikely, but, once heard, inevitable vibes-flamboyant Rhodes, trancelike guitar, bari sax, wildly worldly percussion-into some ancient/modern, previously unheard/entirely accessible musical gallimaufry that will fry your synapses.
This a disc that refuses to eject itself from my musical rotation, hanging with-even trumping-the ultimate jazz big daddies: all those recent transcendent ECM offerings; Joe Lovano making some righteous music with the Stryker/Slagle Band; Elio Villafranca busting out of the starting blocks with the Nu Cuban jazz, whatever: This is it.
Comprising two discs, one mainly composed, one almost entirely spur-of-the-moment collective improv, Epic Journeys Volume I & II lays out a quantum leap forward not only for this up-and-coming multi-wind wizard and way-smart composer, but for slinky/skanky too-smart 21st century jazz. Essential.
- Jan P. Dennis, Audiophile Audition
The double-album. A threatened, if not endangered species, encountered mostly in the back catalog of 1970's rock bands, often as a "Double Live" concert presentation. With [this release] multi-reed maestro Adam Niewood has resurrected the genre with his band the Rabble Rousers, for two CD's loaded with fantastic jazz. ...All of the off-the-cuff cuts give these tremendous musicians a chance to show off not only their playing skills, but their ability to work in free-form as a group, each playing off what the others do. The improvised cuts are so cohesive, that the final piece on the album, the composed "Five Corridors," could itself be taken for one of the free group improvisations. Save the double album! Pick up a copy of [this release] to hear two CD's worth of great woodwind-led jazz.
- John Cizik, Jazz Improv
This beautifully packaged set features two CDs from Adam Niewood & His Rabble Rousers. The first disc is more structured and features all original compositions by Niewood. The second disc begins and ends with Niewood compositions...but the remaining seven tracks are free group improvisations. There's a lot to take in here...in total these discs feature approximately two hours' worth of music. Joining Niewood on these recordings are Kristjan Randalu, Jesse Lewis, Chris Higgins, Matt Brewer, Rohin Khemani, and Greg Ritchie. We initially guessed that after spinning these CDs a few times we would end up having a strong preference for one disc or the other...but this was not the case. Each has its own strengths and they both hold up equally well. Adam's precise saxophone playing drives the proceedings...but the supporting players play a pivotal role in fleshing out the sound. Overall these recordings sound like modern jazz that is highly influenced by early classic jazz artists from the 1950s and 1960s. As is always the case with Innova Recordings' releases...the sound quality is impeccable. These discs are packaged in a beautifully designed digipak sleeve. Impressive artsy stuff. Recommended. (Rating: 5++)
Niewood is the son of famed woodwind player Gerry Niewood, but he has stepped firmly out of his father's shadow with this new release, which features both composed and free- improvised music. Niewood's writing skills are as strong as his playing, and the albums surprise and delight with repeated listening.
- The Jazz Session
Niewood, the son of Gerry Niewood, takes a different musical path from his father, as his approach leans more to the avant-garde. Volume I (disc 1) is entitled "Based on a True Story," features all original compositions which might be characterized as adventurous without being freeform. The penultimate song, "Mellow Drama," is a Latin flavored ballad, a change of pace. Volume II (disc 1) is entitled "Epic Journey," and all but two of the nine songs are noted as "free group improvisations." What could degenerate into chaos actually holds together so well that most of the pieces feel like compositions rather than spur of the moment musical adventures. Indeed, "Loved Ones" and "Calm Before the Storm" demonstrate that free improvising can be gentle. Niewood's clarity of musical vision in his experimentation could not have been realized without the contributions of his fellow musicians, who have performed with him in various groups for the past several years. They include bassist Matt Brewer and pianist Kristjan Randalu. Further information about the artist and his work may be found at www.niewood.com.
- Martin Z. Kasdin Jr, Jazzin'
Adam Niewood's Epic Journey, Volumes I & II is the third vertex in an isosceles triangle of recent releases, the other two points being Noah Preminger's Dry Bridge Road (Nowt, 2008) and Chris Potter's Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard (Sunnyside, 2007)—records by saxophonist-leaders ranging from reasonably to very young, with similar instrumentation—notably electric guitar—and excellent execution. Niewood's record has a bit of the funky looseness of the Potter disc, with Kristjan Randalu taking Craig Taborn's Fender Rhodes part. It also has a lot of the formal rigor of the improvisation and composition of the Preminger record.
What Epic Journey adds, for want of a better word, is freedom—in the sense of free jazz. Niewood bears more than a passing resemblance to Anthony Braxton; like Braxton, he plays just about every conceivable saxophone on this record, and a few other reeds besides. The melodic line of "Not Quite Right," meanwhile, has a little of the demented marching-band sound of some of the elder master's compositions. But Niewood also draws from that other great source of freedom, the energetic playing inspired by John Coltrane (as does Chris Potter, despite his groovy populism).
The vast middle section of the second disc—indeed, the more challenging of the two— is a suite of collectively improvised numbers, ranging from tranquil and contemplative ("First Sign of Clarity") to raucous ("Breaking and Entering," with screeching saxophone worthy of Peter Brotzmann). The first disc, meanwhile, is subtitled "Based on a True Story," which may be Niewood's way of telling us it relies more on conventional composition.
For all their differences, there is an interesting symmetry between the two discs; one is like the inverse image of the other. On both, there is a lot going on—careful composition and arrangement, busy and multi-layered improvisation. Nevertheless, the music on both discs communicates a solid sense of resolution. How that happens—the resolution strategy, if you will—differs between the first and second discs.
On the first, busy, fast-moving, complicated activity in the rhythm section is held together, embraced, by means of slow-moving, overarching melodic lines, as on the wistful and funky "Reprise," on "Demented Lullaby," or on the sumptuously-arranged "Where's the Cat???," the long melodic lines of which sound vaguely like John Coltrane's "Equinox." On the second, freer, disc, the busy, complicated stuff comes in the higher register—the horns, the guitar, the keyboards—and the resolution is provided by driving, rock and roll inflected beat. This ends up sounding like some kind of fusion, and that's not at all bad.
This is a long set—nearly two hours—with plenty to enjoy along the way; pianist Randalu's slightly mad melange of Bud Powell and Scriabin is surely among the highlights. The drums on the second disc, the melodic airs on the first, provide a welcoming coherence that will win over even those who consider themselves allergic to the free. Everyone else will enjoy the show, too.- Jeff Dayton-Johnson, All About Jazz
An epic journey can be described as anything in life that has a start, a finish and a lot of challenges, diversions or other experiences in between. With that in mind, it's easy to see how Adam Niewood and His Rabble Rousers would adopt the term as the title for an exciting two-disc album.
- Woodrow Wilkins, All About Jazz
Niewood's compositions are just as diverse: the two volumes of Epic Journey run the gamut from thick harmonic clouds to spare, chilling moments of expressive minimalism. The range of sounds is in no small part due to Niewood's musicians—long-time collaborators playing a number of different instruments. Added to the leader's reeds (he plays seven in total over the course of the 18 tracks here) are Kristjan Randalu's doubling on piano and Rhodes, and Rohin Khemani's menagerie of world percussion. Together, they create a framework where anything can happen.
- Jay Deshpande, All About Jazz New York
Album of the year
- Brad Walseth, Jazz Chicago
...His band is basically one big rhythm section and they take care of business with admirable clarity and versatility.- Stuart Kremsky, Cadence