Thursday, September 19, 2013

Adam Rongo Tell Your Story D Clef Records 2013

Adam Rongo's Tell Your Story is one of the most exciting debut releases in over a decade.
Brent Black /

So I did the math...Over the last three years I have averaged reviewing three releases a day, seven days a week and this does not include my work as a syndicated writer for a Gannett publication here in Louisville. As a jazz journalist it would be far too easy to become jaded while sifting through the sonic sand and silt that makes it to my mailbox but it is indeed this constant search for exciting new talent that makes Adam Rongo's Tell Your Story well worth the effort.

I don't write overtly technical reviews as my goal is to make the music accessible. The technical review plays well to professional musicians and grad school theorists but to limit your scope in that fashion does nothing to push the music forward. Adam Rongo's debut release works incredibly well on two fronts. Adam is as artistically gifted as he is technically proficient with a lyrical sense of purpose reminiscent of Stanley Turentine and the harmonic edge of a Steve Wilson. New artists struggle with credibility, the ability to be taken seriously when all those around then are telling them to be patient and pay their dues. After reviewing literally thousands of new saxophone players the one point I can make without reservation is that length of time and competency do not necessarily go hand in hand. Joining the Adam on this stellar new effort we have trombonist Michael Dease, bassist Rodney Whitaker and one of the fastest rising stars in drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. Allow me to point out the blatantly obvious, musicians of this caliber do not risk their name and reputation playing with a young gun that does not have the innate gift of swing and the ability to bring it at the drop of a hat. Adam Rongo is the real deal.

The music? First rate! The tunes here are somewhat eclectic to those that don't go deep catalog on some artists with wonderful numbers such as "Two Tees" from Jimmy Heath and "Fifty-Six" from Johnny Griffin. While most debut releases contain a handful of standards whose primary purpose is to serve as an introduction to the artist, Adam Rongo has some ridiculous compositional skills with tunes such as "Temporary Paralysis" and "Doppelganger" which are as good as they come. Reharms on "You Don't Know What Love Is" and "Stardust" are soulful and soul filled! Navigating his way through multiple ensemble pairings Rongo has an amazing chameleon like approach to not only blend but transform the harmonic color palette with a textural effect long absent in the somewhat sanitized for your protection world of modern jazz. As a critic I often learn from artists and the great Brazilian tenor player Ivo Perelman encouraged me to simply listen and write. No prep work was involved in this piece. I did not read the liner notes till I was wrapping up my thoughts and noticed some amazing similarities between both my thoughts and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. I like talking about jazz. I love talking about Adam Rongo, a young phenom whose musical stock is an arrow pointing straight up!

I just found more room on my year end "Best Of" listing...

Tracks: Turnin' The Corner; You Don't Know What Love Is; Temporary Paralysis; You're Mine, You; Doppelganger; Good & Terrible; The Wager; Two Tees; Stardust; Tell Your Story; Fifty-Six.

Personnel: Adam Rongo: Alto and Tenor Saxophones; Etienne Charles: Trumpet (3 & 5); Michael Dease: Trombone; Randy Napoleon: Guitar (4,8,9); Behn Gillece: Vibraphone: (3,7,10); Emmet Cohen: Piano; Rodney Whitaker: Bass; Ulysses Owens Jr.: Drums.
Guests: Anthony Stanco: Trumpet (1,2,6); Tim Mayer: Tenor Saxophone (1,2,6); Tony Lustig; Baritone Saxophone (1,2,6); Miki Hayama: Piano (6); Evan Sherman: Drums (11).