Having once done a presentation for former General Electric C.E.O Jack Welch where I made the statement "length of time and competency do not necessarily go hand in hand" - the same goes for music. Bottom line being you can play or you can not and while paying some dues may do nothing more than rack up some frequently flyer miles, real playing comes from not from the heart but a deeper place well past the soul. The aptly titled The Keeper is not only a fitting description of Niswanger's talent but perhaps an indication of where she locks up her musical treasures to be let out as she hits that special musical happy place that is the epitome of where real artistic creativity comes from.
The 2009 debut release from an amazing 19 year old phenom was good. The 2012 release from this 22 year old artist is even better. I'll be the first to say that the hybridization of jazz is a good thing, to fuse elements from different genres is such a unique way as to create a new artistic voice is a special thing. For a young artist to express her desire to stay true to the fundamentals of a musical genre that transcends past the music norm into a virtual state of sonic bliss is taking the ambiguous title of artist to a new and different level. While The Keeper introduces us to eight captivating Niswanger originals, we are treated to impeccable versions of tunes by Monk, Miles and the incomparable Cole Porter. Backed up by her friends from her days at Berklee or where I fondly refer to as "Jazz U." Niswanger is clearly an artist that knows who she is and is comfortable with the artistic direction she is heading and we all reap those rewards.
The slightly odd metered title track along with the release in its entirety is dedicated to Jeff Cumpston who was her high school band director. This uniquely and ironically sad dedication has led to a release that has Cumpston looking down and smiling knowing his work was well received. "Straight Up" comes across with the maturity of a player twice her age. Playing both alto and soprano, Niswanger displays a keen lyrical direction with some shifting harmonics and a subtle swing that is groove personified with uninitiated. A nice walking bass line from Max Moran, artful finesse from drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. and of course Takeshi Ohbayashi round out a first call rhythm section for a groove you can use! "Night And Day" has the tempo kicked up just slightly for a sprightly bounce and vitality that breathes to life into an iconic classic and lets Niswanger leave her own indelible mark on this standard. A first rate job with a lyrical flow that seems to linger long after the tune has ended. "The Keeper" closes this stellar release leading off with drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. becoming the pocket and driving the sonic train as Niswanger joins the fray for a lovely tune, with the harmonic tightrope without a net and showcasing not just her but the band and their talent as a working ensemble.
Jazz can be a tad sexist at times. Let's take the pretty girl and give her a pair of pumps and hide her in the horn line or if she can sing perhaps we can stick her behind the piano. Hailey Niswanger proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that she can hold her own on any bandstand with any ensemble and can lead her own group with amazing skill and virtuosity. I do not like to focus on the race, sex or politics of an artist - I write about jazz.
Hailey Niswanger is a jazz artist. A 5 Star jazz artist.
Tracks: Scraps; Straight Up; Norman; Milestones; Ravine; Played Twice; Balance; Night And Day; Tale Of The Dale; "B" Happy; The Keeper.
Personnel: Hailey Niswanger: alto & soprano saxophones; Takeshi Ohbayashi: piano; Max Moran: bass; Mark Whitfield Jr.: drums; Darren Barrett: trumpet: trumpet (4,5,9).