Madison composer-arranger Paul Dietrich’s music looks backward and forward, like sonic cinema

Paul Dietrich Jazz Ensemble – Forward *

In essence, Maria Schneider brought native Minnesota landscape and beyond to the Gil Evans orchestral impression. To stunning effect, Madison’s Paul Dietrich has done as much for Wisconsin vistas. Akin to Schneider, hear sumptuous orchestral shapes draped over ostinatos or vamps, or elegantly unfolding chord changes. Brilliant accordionist Gary Versace offers Grammy-winning Schneider slightly richer textures. By contrast, Dietrich employs a wordless female soprano voice, perhaps imported from Pat Metheny’s ensemble concept. 

Composer-arranger-trumpeter Paul Dietrich (left) conducts his jazz ensemble in the recording session for the album “Forward.” Courtesy youtube.com

Forward ranks a mere notch below Schneider’s best album or two. Yep, it’s that good, bolstered by ace soloists among its Chicago-area and Southern Wisconsin musicians. On opener “Rush,” Milwaukee trumpeter Russ Johnson’s warm, stately lyricism rides swelling backdrops and kicking boosts from Clarence Penn, Schneider’s own band drummer. It takes it’s time, building with Tony Barba’s climbing-to-climax tenor sax, but the tune is a rush.

“Settle” suggests history, a homestead, putting down roots, embracing the future with quiet courage. Altoist Greg Ward intimates a family-like vibe of circling tenderness.

The closing “Forward” suite (titled for the state’s motto) first evokes, in playful horn counterpoint, Dietrich’s vibrant hometown of Ripon. 1

“I can return to my hometown..and feel right at home even as life experiences change my perception of the things around me,” Dietrich comments in the album liner notes.  Then “Snow,” a tone poem of enveloping majesty, glows in contours of shade and light. Ward’s ardent soloing melts the snow closer to “Like Water” (a previous tune’s title).

“Roads” unfolds through more nifty crisscross writing, then sequencing of the same phrases among ensemble sections, and Dustin Lorenzi’s burnished, Stan Getz-like tenor peals.

Milwaukee trumpeter Russ Johnson (foreground, left) is among the strong soloists amid Dietrich’s deftly interactive ensemble, in this recording session scene. Courtesy Isthmus.

The suite closes with the poignantly anthemic “Green Fields,” written for the late Fred Sturm, a brilliant Appleton composer and trombonist (with the acclaimed jazz-fusion group Matrix) and mentor to Dietrich and many musicians. His protege’s own trumpet here sounds like cherished memory.

“The former department chair at Lawrence University, my alma mater, remains the most important teacher I ever had,” Dietrich notes. “He was unfairly taken too young by cancer in 2014…his love of music and his radiant (and mischievous) personality left an indelible mark on all who knew him.” Here, the Schneider connection echoes again, as Sturm edited the published scores for Schneider’s album Evanesence.

For all the album’s backwards-glancing reflection and sense of place, the theme of “forward” keeps the listener attuned to Dietrich’s long, winding road over the horizon.

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This review was first published in slightly shorter form in The Shepherd Express: https://shepherdexpress.com/music/album-reviews/forward-by-paul-dietrich-jazz-ensemble-with-clarence-penn/

  • photo of Forward album cover courtesy Jazz Trails

1 The Greater Madison Jazz Consortium commissioned Dietrich to write the Forward suite. The organization supports a wide range of jazz activities and ventures in the Capitol city. “The idea was to write music in a modern big band jazz style that represented my personal images and perceptions of my home state, Wisconsin,” Dietrich writes.  

Why should we care about Miles Davis? New biopic, live tribute, local thoughts

Portrait of US jazz trumpet player Miles Davis taken 06 July 1991 in Paris. Portrait du trompettiste de jazz Miles Davis pris lors d'un concert le 06 juillet 1991 à la Halle de la Villette à Paris. (Photo credit should read PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/GettyImages)

Portrait of US jazz trumpet player Miles Davis taken 06 July 1991 in Paris.
Portrait du trompettiste de jazz Miles Davis pris lors d’un concert le 06 juillet 1991 à la Halle de la Villette à Paris. (Photo credit PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/GettyImages)

Why care?

Miles Davis dwells at, and helped create, the root thrust of many music vernaculars of the 20th century — from vintage bop with Bird, to purring like a breeze-cooled cat in Birth of the Cool, to kicking in the blues ‘n’ back beat of workin’, walkin’ hard-bop with Trane, to modal jazz trance with Kind of Blue, to cutting-edge modern slash with his second great quintet, to polyrhythmic Afro-fusion with Bitches Brew, to deep street funk and proto-hip-hop ‘tude with On the Corner. And he always gave us the essence of personal style, as an expression of American individuality and romance. Whew.

Well, that’s by way of introduction to this radio story. Thanks to 88.9 Radio Milwaukee’s Glenn Kleiman and trumpeter Jamie Breiwick for including me in this fine feature. http://radiomilwaukee.org/discover-music/still-care-miles-davis/

The feature, with interviews of Breiwick and me is hooked on Don Cheadle’s highly-anticipated biographical film about Miles Davis Miles Ahead, and “A Tribute to Miles Davis,” (a supper club edition) a live concert event at Company Brewing, 735 E. Center St, Milwaukee, at 9:30 p.m. on April 15. The event is organized by and features saxophonist Jay Anderson along with trumpeter Russ Johnson, pianist Mark Davis, bassist Ethan Bender, and drummer Mitch Shiner. This is an excellent ensemble event, featuring music by and associated with Miles, not to be missed: https://www.facebook.com/events/1671208159798613/

Also, here is a link to my review of the 1983 Miles Davis concert in Milwaukee, for The Milwaukee Journal:https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19830218&id=XWgaAAAAIBAJ&sjid=4ykEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4166,4949562&hl=en