Friday, August 17, 2007

Rob Wagner Trio (Valid Records, 2007) ****


I'm sorry to sound over-enthusiastic again for a new record, but this one by the - at least to me - unknown sax player Rob Wagner is really worth listening to, all the more so because Hamid Drake plays the drums on it. De bass is in the hands of Nobu Ozaki. Wagner and Ozaki are both from New Orleans, where the CD was recorded, with the devastation caused by hurricane Katrina still all too present, and some of the tracks refer to it, or rather to the lousy administration and the lack of political will to tackle the problems adequately. But now the music : only to hear Hamid Drake playing this CD is already worth purchasing : varied, accurate, flashing, perfectly supporting, creative, sensitive, ... a real master in body and soul. Ozaki is a drummer by education but he switched to bass in order to make a living in New Orleans, and his bass-playing is excellent, melodic and rhythmic as you might expect, but also with emotions and insight which puts him definitely above average. But the real star of this album is Wagner himself. Already from the first notes of "Desoparia", Wagner's soprano demonstrates what you will hear for the rest of the album : middle-eastern or klezmer inflections in his phrasing, a warm tone, variation, and a very tight and intense trio. The music swings, has vision, sensitivity, structure and his solos have focus. Drake switches his drums for frame drums on some tracks, offering a more intimate world jazz feel, especially because Wagner plays around the rhythms with hypnotic melodies. After a few more subdued pieces, some uptempo tracks, led by a fierce tenor, change the tone a little, creating real power and intensity, but all very coherent and with a great sense of direction. "Childhood Memory" is a children's tune which is updated, and serves as the basis for a long improvization. Rob Wagner is truly excellent and this album is highly recommended.

Listen to :
Desoparia
Shock, Awe, Sham, Shame
Freedumb (Aren't You Glad You Can Vote In America)

5 comments:

belyin said...

Glad you liked the record; making it was certainly a labor of love. Rob Wagner has three other cds, all produced by me here in New Orleans. He's been on the scene here about 15 years playing all sorts of gigs, most notably with the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars as well as with his working trio. Since Katrina destroyed his apartment, he has mostly stayed in New York, but he gigs here far more often than there.

Rob is one of a number of talented, creative players in New Orleans who don't get the recognition they deserve since they don't meet the expectations of what a New Orleans musician should be or should play now that New Orleans music has become a (minor) market category. Part of my goal in starting a label was to expose their talents and to give them more space within which to operate.

stef said...

Congratulations for your efforts! This record is absolutely great. I'm more than happey than share my appreciation with everyone reading my blog (not too many of them, but the quality is excellent!)

Success!
stef

belyin said...

Stef, If you don't mind could you tell me how you came to review this cd? One of the hardest things for a tiny label from an out-of-the-way spot is to get the word out, so it would be helpful to know what works.

And thanks for writing the blog; you cover some wonderful music.

benjamin

stef said...

Belyin,

Here is my response :
1. I like modern jazz
2. I read allaboutjazz daily (= my main source of information)
3. I make lists of those I want to hear and buy
4. I usually have about 100 CDs on this list (I buy/borrow/download approx 10 CDs a week)
5. So I try to find sound samples first and based on these 30 seconds I prioritize.
6. I found your website
7. I found the Rob Wagner Trio also on Payplay.
8. I really loved it, even from listening to the short samples.
9. I purchased it from Payplay (I actually registered only to get this album). (I usually also use emusic.com a lot, sometimes iTunes)
10. I was so charmed by the music that I wrote my review.
11. I prefer downloading to ordering via mail, especially if it's from the US, because of postage costs and especially import taxes.
So, that's about it. But as you say, this guy needs more recognition and I'm happy to do my share.
All the best,
Stef

belyin said...

Thanks Stef, that was very helpful and informative. I know nothing about the world of digital downloads other than iTunes (all of Rob's stuff is on iTunes now)--but then I still prefer lp vinyl. I can see how the download thing can make it much easier to cross borders, even if you don't get my liner notes that way. (No big deal--except they were the first ones I have written--and they are on our CDBaby site.)

Keep up the good work,

benjamin