Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Joy of Live Music : Marvin Stamm and Mike Holober Quartet "Live at Maureen's Jazz Cellar"


                                       Live @ Maureen's Jazz Cellar Marvin Stamm, Mike Holober, Mike McGuirk and Dennis Mackrel 

It is always a pleasure when a group of musicians possesses that “special sauce," that complementary talent, awareness, and ability to align their individual efforts and perform as one beautifully purposeful unit. It is even more conducive to success when you get a chance to play/record in a welcoming, intimate setting in front of a knowledgeable and appreciative audience. This happened this past December, pre-Covid, in the unassuming jazz venue Maureen’s Jazz Cellar, located on the west side bank of the Hudson River, in the town of Nyack, NY.

The group is comprised of the trumpeter/flugelhornist Marvin Stamm, the pianist Mike Holober, upright bassist Mike McGuirk and the drummer Dennis Mackrel. They brought their alchemy and recorded this new album simply titled Live @ Maureen’s Jazz Cellar. The music recorded, is a collection of five thoughtful and modernly navigated jazz gems from composers like  Horace Silver, Bill Evans, Bronislau Kaper and Jerome Kern, and includes two gorgeous originals written by the pianist, Mike Holober.

Dennis Mackrel, Mike McGuirk, Mike Holober, and Marvin Stamm

My exposure to the trumpeter/flugelhornist Marvin Stamm goes back to the early eighties when I first saw him playing as a guest artist with the house band- drummer Billy LaVorgna and the English pianist Derek Smith- at a little now-defunct club called the Foxes Liar in Hackensack, N.J. Stamm always impressed me with his fluid facility, his sensuous tone, especially on the flugelhorn, and his unerring melodic and harmonic sense. Years later I heard him with pianist Billy Mays’ The Inventions Trio, which included cellist Alisa Horn on a marvelous album titled Fantasy from 2007. This was a musical hybrid, a chamber/jazz crossover, that brought out Stamm’s facile expressiveness, utilizing a classically inspired approach that meshed beautifully with the Mays' piano and Horn's cello.

I discovered the pianist/composer/arranger Mike Holober in 2010, when I attended some big band performances that he conducted with the Westchester Jazz Orchestra. Besides iconic guest artists, the dynamic big band included Marvin Stamm in the trumpet section among a group of NYC's notable section musicians. Apparently, Stamm and Holober’s work together on the WJO sparked a friendship and the two became close collaborators. Holober’s growing stature as a big band composer/big band arranger was recently acknowledged when his Gotham Jazz Orchestra’s release Hiding Out, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2019.

When similar minds, like Stamm and Holober, collaborate over a sustained period and the chemistry is right, a musical empathy develops and a complimentary creative approach to music becomes almost second nature. The two went about enlisting solid and intuitively responsive rhythm section partners to form a working quartet. The drummer Dennis Mackrel and the bassist Mike McGuirk are under the radar journeymen musicians that fit superbly, expanding the conversational possibilities of this potent group.

In the opening cut, listen to how Holober’s smart intro to Horace Silver’s “Out of the Night Came You,” sets the table beautifully before the group slips into the swinging melody. Stamm’s flugelhorn has a warm, welcoming tone and he plays with a fluid inventiveness that surprises and holds your attention. The group never loses the drive carried by McGuirk’s plump bass lines and Mackrel’s sure rhythmic propulsion.

Bassist McGuirk opens with an intriguing pizzicato solo bass lead-in to Bronislau Kaper’s exotic-sounding “Invitation.”  Stamm takes this haunting melody to a new level of sensitivity. It is simply magical to listen to this master horn player take you down the rabbit hole of harmonic possibilities. Holober is similarly engaging with his own explorations of the composition’s captivating moods. McGuirk offers a fleet journey on a poignant bass solo and the music is advanced by a swirling, rhythmic drive by the trap master Mackrel. Almost fifteen minutes of marvelously played music that by itself is worth the price of admission.

On Holober original “Dear Virginia,” a pensive, touching ballad that features some of the pianist’s most expressive work, the interaction between the pianist and both Stamm and McGuirk’s artful contributions, raise cooperative playing to a new level.

“Morning Hope,” another Holober original, musically builds from tranquility to expectation. Mackrel’s subtle drum work is like a symphony of rhythms, perfectly suited to accompany whoever is soloing, while always steadfastly propelling the music forward. Holober raises the level with a rewarding and touching solo. 

A rousing rhythmic treatment on Jerome Kern’s jewel “All the Things You Are” keeps this well-worn song fresh and interesting. Solos by Holober, Stamm, and McGuirk are all top-notch and raised again by an impressive drum solo featuring Mackrel’s graceful skills.

Holober’s opening to Horace Silver’s tranquil “Peace” is masterful and moving. His piano work is elegant in songs like this, songs with a message that deserves a player who can be creative and still maintain the composer’s intention. Stamm’s impressionistic flugelhorn lines follow exploring the genuine pathos that flows through this music. His horn also offers a yearning hopefulness to the message that peace can in fact be attained, which in today’s day is a powerful aspiration. 

The set ends with the more rambunctious Bill Evans’ funky “Funkallero,” one of the few times Evans took up the electric piano.  Mackrel’s drums set the pace with a boisterous drum entrance. The members robustly trade ideas with an overall feel of gusto. Maintaining the song's drive, Holober plays with an aggressive attack, Stamm’s horn is at his most excitable and jubilant, McGuirk gives a plucky bass solo and Mackrel lets loose with his own punctuated drum highlight. The crowd at Maureen’s are left with unfettered appreciation, offering enthusiastic applause.

If you, like me, miss that “live” experience then get Live @ Maureen's Jazz Cellar and play it till your heart's delight, its the next best thing to being there.

 Follow this link to hear the group play "invitation"

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