With Nolan's third release set to drop on 09/25/12 the most intriguing yet completely logical source of inspiration for his creativity of late has been dancing. Jazz was America's original pop music and the primary purpose was for that of the dance. I switched from clarinet to saxophone to meet girls and Nolan took up dancing following a break up and on the sage advise of saxophonist George Garzone that any jazz musician must have a hobby to maintain his or her sanity. The better Nolan became on the dance floor the better his writing and arranging became and we reap those rewards with his new release titled Tell Me.
Nolan took up Salsa dancing five years ago and there is a heavy Latin influence on this gem which includes some righteous covers of the Beatles "Nowhere Man" and the Michael Jackson hit "Man In The Mirror" written by the amazing combination of Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett. Nolan also tackles the Oliver Nelson classic "Stolen Moments" and a personal favorite "A Remark You Made" from the great Joe Zawinful. For the uninitiated the logical question of what tenor player does he sound like will of course be first out of the box. Nolan is a gifted sonic chameleon with the ability to change tone, phrasing and dynamics on the fly while never falling off a harmonic cliff. A stealth player that has flown under the radar for too long, Tell Me should start turning some heads quickly.
There is a definite rhythmic sense of purpose and the arrangements even when reharming the Beatles classic "Nowhere Man" literally sing. Granted the arrangement of the Lennon/McCartney classic is certainly off beat but it never forces one off the edge of a sonic cliff trying to figure out what the tune is. Nolan's skillful arrangements allow himself and other band members to swing in an open ended style without mangling a beautiful melody past the point of recognition. The title track is a Nolan original and title track "Tell Me" which opens with the ambient texture of Art Hirahara on Fender Rhodes and a harmonic movement and keen sense of lyrical flow that is captivating. The stellar rhythm section is rounded out with Michael O'Brien covering the bass duties and Brian Fishler on drums. Nolan does a 6/8 riff on Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" that is pure sonic fury. "Stolen Moments" may be the most impressive arrangement on the release as this subtle Afro-Cuban arrangement again allows Nelson to simply blow it out. This is what makes Tell Me one of the best saxophone led releases of the year, Nolan mixes it up. Some players hang out in odd meter or subscribe to the speed is king mentality in an attempt to become the next big thing when in fact they are punching their own ticket to the flavor of the month club.
Foot to the floor passion. Nolan plays from a place deep within himself while remaining incredibly accessible to passive listener. A prolific soloist and arranger, Russ Nolan is an artist that remains true to his craft.
Great tunes, solid arrangements, a formidable 4tet makes Tell Me one of the sleepers of the year.
Russ Nolan is a player you will remember long after the last note.
Tracks: Tell Me; Stolen Moments; Nowhere Man; Beyond Arbitrary; Creepin; A Remark You Made; View From The Bridge; Man In The Mirror; No Secrets.
Personnel: Russ Nolan: tenor saxophone; Art Hirahara: piano and fender rhodes; Michael O'Brien: acoustic and electric bass; Brian Fishler: drums; Zach Brock: violin (2,4,7) and Producer.
Russ Nolan and Kenny Werner from 2011 via You Tube