ED NEUMEISTER QUARTET – WHAT HAVE I DONE?Featuring Ed Neumeister (trombone), Gary Versace (piano),Drew Gress (bass), Tom Rainey (drums)Available October 15, 2021 on MeisteroMusic Records
“One of the finest of his generation, an underrated giant waiting to be discovered.”
– Steven Loewy, AllMusicGuide
“A living legend”
– Cicily Janus, The New Face of Jazz, Billboard Books
Composed and arranged by Ed Neumeister, the new album, What Have I Done? (available October 15) is the latest offering from an artist who has been at the forefront of creative music for more than forty years.
Neumeister has said that it is his mission in life to create thought-provoking music for curious ears; music that challenges and inspires. Through composing, performing, improvising and teaching, Neumeister has always explored the possibilities, pushing and expanding the envelope in the process. His output is inclined to bring about a torrent of the creative juices, in himself, his band-mates and his audiences. That is certainly the case with his latest offering, What Have I Done? Listening to the album one might be aware that there is a strong unimpeded connection between Neumeister’s heart, soul and brain, the composer’s pen and the trombone – his ability to express ideas, convey emotion and “speak” with his bandmates and to us, the listener, through his music, is unrivaled in today’s creative music landscape.
The extensiveness and profundity of Neumeister’s experience informs every note he composes and plays. The strain of musicianship, technique and inventiveness heard from Neumeister on What Have I Done? has remarkably deep roots, stretching back to the earliest days of being a teenage, professional musician in the Bay Area, featured in high level marching bands, collaborating with Jerry Garcia (in the band, Reconstruction), backing up the likes of Chuck Berry, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra, embarking on a creative sojourn to Amsterdam, winning the first trombone chair with the Sacramento Symphony, and numerous other gigs, finally arriving in NYC in 1980 where he quickly became a “first-call” for Lionel Hampton, The Duke Ellington Orchestra (in which he played the trombone book made famous by Joe ‘Tricky Sam” Nanton), the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra (alongside Joe Lovano, Kenny Garrett and Tom Harrell), a stint with Buddy Rich, and many others. Neumeister has basically “worked with everyone,” as they say, including a forty year musical relationship with Joe Lovano (currently a member of his Nonet), Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Band, the aforementioned Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, which became the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra after Lewis’ passing (Neumeister’s arrangement of “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” on the album To You: A Tribute To Mel Lewis, was nominated for a Grammy Award), and many others. On top of all this, he has been leading his own ensembles throughout his entire career, and they have served as vehicles for his prolific output as a composer.
“I’ve worked with Ed since the ’80s, when we played in the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra together. We’ve done many projects since in Europe and New York, and now he plays in my Nonet. He is an inspired arranger, composer and conductor, as well as a soloist of deep expressive passion.” – Joe Lovano
Ed Neumeister has composed every day for the past thirty years, a beautiful habit that began when Neumeister was a member of the first BMI Jazz Composers Workshop in 1987 with Manny Albam and Bob Brookmeyer. It was during this time that the artist morphed from a trombonist who composes, to a composer whose main instrument is the trombone.” On What Have I Done? we are treated to eight new Neumeister compositions, interspersed with “Pickled Ginger”, six amuse-bouches by members of the quartet that offer brief interludes in between the compositions. The recording took place after Neumeister moved back to New York City following a seventeen year stint as a Professor at the University of the Performing Arts in Graz, Austria, and several years in Los Angeles, orchestrating for films such as Inception, The Dark Knight Rises and Sherlock Holmes.
Dealing with the composer’s notation can be quite an undertaking. For pianist Gary Versace, he was more than prepared in the studio as he could count on ten years of experience with Neumeister in a trio setting with vocalist Jay Clayton, as well as playing with Neumeister’s Jazz Orchestra on occasion. “Gary and I spent two or three weeks conversing about the music, and I told him that this not a blowing record, but rather a recording of compositions which incorporates improvisation”, explains Neumeister. “The way I notate this music . . . I have this big picture in mind, so I’m not really writing a piano part, but rather an orchestral part. It becomes Gary’s job, in consultation with me, to decide what to play and what to leave out, because it would be impossible to play everything that’s written. The idea behind this is that we can then decide, do we double the melody or bass line, or not? Should there be comping or fills in between phrases, or not? For example. Once Gary got a handle on it, he was able to play what he wanted, but still coming from the material of the composition. He was judicious about respecting what I wrote, while simultaneously able to contribute his unique voice.”
Bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey have played together in many situations and in bands led by the likes of Tim Berne, Tony Malaby, Ingrid Laubrock and Rainey’s own Obbligato Quintet, and their ‘hookup” is on full display on What Have I Done? Gress was also a member of Neumeister’s earlier quartet (with John Hollenbeck and the late Fritz Pauer on piano). Neumeister and Rainey have the deepest history together, going all the way back to their early days in the Bay Area where they played all manner of gigs, to their move to NYC in the early 80s, and their subsequent loft-hopping nights, playing informal sessions on that historic scene.
“The perfect mixture as a musician. He knows Ellington as well as Bartok.” – Manny Albam
“A gifted improviser.” – Bob Brookmeyer
What Have I Done? opens with a compelling waltz, “River Walk,” that serves as a tribute to the legendary Chick Corea (who passed away in February, 2021), and was inspired by Neumeister’s daily walks along the Passaic River. “Acclimation Park” follows, and is a nod to a favorite jogging path in Sáo Paulo. Naturally, it has a Samba feel, and “it’s traditional in terms of the harmony, and the four bar phrases, but it’s got some strange melody notes, and altered chords that aren’t so frequently altered,” explains Neumeister. Neumeister has a gift for taking melodic material to refreshingly new places, as is the case with “Gratitude.” Neumeister elaborates, “there is often what look like chord changes in my compositions, but I don’t think of them as chord changes anymore, but rather as harmonic reference.” Other highlights on the album include “Ridgewood,” named for the Queens neighborhood where it was written. It grooves like crazy, despite the odd time signatures employed (9/8, 17/16, 5/8 & 11/16), a testament to the incredible talent these gentlemen possess. Neumeister composed “Renate” for a dear, departed friend from Switzerland. “It’s sing-songy in nature, but harmonically far away from II V I. It’s built on a pattern in 10/4, two bars of 3 with one bar of 4, with a swing feel, reminiscent of Elvin Jones,” said Neumeister. The title track is a question every human being has asked himself/herself at one time or another, and for Neumeister ‘What Have I Done?’ relates to the end of a marriage, the beginning of a new relationship, and the offering of a profound recording that builds upon an extensive catalogue of recordings, and showcases a composer and trombonist in a perpetual state of evolution.