Wednesday, October 12, 2016

USA: AL STRONG QUINTET Celebrates LOVESTRONG VOL. 1 Wednesday, November 30th @ SMOKE

Wednesday, November 30th
Sets 7pm, 9pm & 10:30pm
2741 Broadway
New York, New York 10025
Between 105th and 106th Streets
$12 Music Charge
Tickets & Info

Al Strong- Trumpet
Stacy Dillard-Sax
Wilerm Delisfort-Piano
Ameen Saleem-Bass
Jeremy 'Bean' Clemons-Drums

Recognized for his musical versatility and distinctly robust sound, emerging trumpeter, arranger, and composer, Al Strong’s debut album LoveStrong Vol. 1 is unparalleled in its ability to evoke a range of emotions.  This collection of both original compositions and contemporary renditions of jazz standards incorporates progressive jazz, soul, gospel, and afro-beat grooves, displaying Strong’s intuitive musical command.  Categorically, Strong invites the listenership to journey with him through the music, a journey that encompasses stories of adversity, triumph, mystery, and love.

Strong’s desire to share his music with the world began with a modest look into himself and the art being created around him.  Realizing the hauntingly familiar melodies in his head would not let him rest until fully manifested, he knew LoveStrong had to be birthed.  This tantalizing piece of art is a sonic breath of fresh air, offering an album reminiscent of the old ways, a work requiring the audience only to hit play.  From top to bottom one immediately feels the warmth of this recording, with no inclination to stray from the designated playlist.

Though firmly rooted in the tradition of greats like Louis Armstrong and Count Basie, Strong and his gathering of musicians achieve a type of lush interplay that only comes from truly being in the moment.
Strong’s focus on displaying a distinctly modern sound is founded in his beliefs of living in the present and being able to take bold risks with the music.  Undoubtedly, the organic synergies evident amongst musicians on this record flawlessly convey these convictions with style and grace.  Strong credits the natural bond and blend between the musicians as a fundamental component of LoveStrong Vol. 1, describing the experience as “more than a series of recording sessions, but rather a family reunion.”

 LoveStrong Vol. 1 features 10 tracks, including 4 intrepid arrangements of jazz standards and 6 original compositions.  Album highlights include:

“Getaway 9,” an original tune and delightfully up-tempo journey that tells the story of being on a road trip with your closest friends, while capturing all of the conversation that ensues.  The dialogue amongst instruments draws the audience in for more detail, but almost immediately the tenor saxophone interjects in the conversation.  Next, Strong takes a nuanced approach to his blowing, stretching the time and creating tension and release with the ensemble.

One of America’s most beloved nursery rhymes comes to life with Strong’s rendition of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”  The opening statement begins with a small children’s chorus singing the melody in what can appear as free form.  The flugelhorn and flute begin to make sparse entrances with the playfulness one would expect in a nursery rhyme.  This high-energy waltz is sure to have you feeling nostalgic about your childhood.

It’s rare when an artist captures the wrenching feeling of heartbreak into one fine instrumental piece of music.  On “Lilly’s Lullaby,” Strong does just that, crafting a beautiful melody around his ensemble who play with such power and sensitivity.  Joey Calderazzo’s improvisation is a beautiful addition to an already piercingly honest work.

Original “Ci’s Blues” showcases LoveStrong’s down home roots.  The solo guitar intro sets the stage for a wall of sound and collective improvisation.  The sweet cries of Strong’s horn are indicative of the vocal inflections born out of the Black church experience.

Strong’s arrangement of “My Favorite Things” is unlike what one would expect from a widely celebrated holiday favorite.  Breaking away from tradition, this arrangement chooses to use the afro-beat style as its canvas.  With time for the melody to breathe in between statements, Strong comes out blazing with a wildly amazing pair of sound effects on trumpet.

“Fond of You” is a lighthearted 3-horn original composition written to pay homage to Art Blakey.  The song illustrates powerful playing from Strong and his ensemble as they look to a master for guidance on the true meaning of swing.

Next LoveStrong Vol. 1 brings the listener’s mood back into a more intimate setting with “Liquid,” a soothing ballad that induces a sense of pure ecstasy.  Strong’s classic flugelhorn intro quietly screams passionate fluidity, as the highs and lows of his horn resound with great affection.

“Voyage,” the classic Kenny Baron jazz standard is treated with grace and adventure as this arrangement begins in a half-time rhumba style, only to later morph into a completely up-tempo, high energy-version, where the collective conversation determines the next direction.  The listener can truly take the “voyage” with this ensemble.

Strong showcases his harmon mute sound on the original tune, “Was.”  This ballad gains its beauty not only from Strong’s masterful approach to phrasing, but also swooping acoustic guitar passages, and alluring Fender Rhodes work.

LoveStrong comes to a joyous close with the jazz standard, and album single, “Blue Monk.”  This feel good arrangement promises to have you out of your seat and on the dance floor.  The intro begins with yet another bold guitar statement surrounded by a party atmosphere that is reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”  Once the band jumps in, the party picks up even more with an array of New Orleans styled counterpoint between the baritone, alto, and tenor saxophones, and Strong leading the way.  After the delivery of the melody, we find a tasteful solo section trading between piano and organ.  The trumpet solo enters as patient as ever, until Strong climaxes with the rhythm section to close out his solo.  Dueling saxophones have their say, as they converse on their instruments like old friends.

Overall, LoveStrong Vol. 1 is an honest message about what is so desperately needed in today’s world: treating all mankind with kindness and love.  Strong achieves in his debut album what many artists spend their careers attempting to grasp, crafting a piece of work that is an inviting body of music to all, attracting everyone from new listeners of the genre to jazz aficionados.  Listeners who have embraced the jazz genre since the time of “Bird” will hear both the lineage of tradition combined with a desire to push the boundaries, as did the great Charlie Parker.  Unquestionably, LoveStrong Vol.  1 is sure to be a household favorite.

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