Ed Neumeister Quintet – With Billy Drewes: saxes & clarinet, Kenny Werner & Jim McNeely: piano, Dennis Irwin: bass, Mike Clark & Jamey Haddad: drums
Metro Music - CD
Steven A Lowey
The most incredible thing about Ed Neumeister’s Metro Music , besides the astonishing display of virtuosity, is that it has taken two small foreign labels to document his performances as a leader. This, his second recording, showcases Neumeister’s slide pyrotechnics in two completely different settings: a quartet, with Kenny Werner on piano, Dennis Irwin on bass, and Mike Clark on drums; and a totally different quintet with Billy Drewes on reeds, Jim McNeely on Piano, Jamey Haddad on drums and Irwin again on bass. Although no recording information is given, my hunch is that the groups were recorded some distance apart.
If Jimmy Cleveland can be labeled a super J.J. Johnson, then Neumeister should be coined a ultra-Carl Fontana. For raw ability, speed, agility, and range, he is virtually unmatched, lifting the trombone to a new level. Neumeister is known variously for his marvelous muted effects in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, his unrecorded free jazz performances with Don Byron, Tom Cora and others, and his classical music technique, all of which have gained him the respect of professional musicians. Beyond them, however, he is hardly recognized.
Metro Music could, if widely distributed, be a step toward changing that. While the recording is flawed (some arrangements work better than others, the recording quality suffers a bit on the quintet performances, the arrangements do not always hold interest, and the sidemen sometimes pale in comparison to the leader), this is still one heck of a showcase for Neumeister’s talents as a player and composer.
The quartet cuts are pristine examples of the heights to which the trombone can soar. “Row To Tow” an angular twelve tone composition, unpretentiously shows off the trombonist’s low key, but hard-to-believe handle on the horn. Neumeister owns the trombone, and whether it is range or velocity, it is hard to imagine anyone with greater authority. Throughout, his solos awe, with leaps to the highest notes playable on the horn, and accelerated against-the grain precision. His “talking ‘bone” sounds off on “Weeping Willows”, where the muted effect is eerie if not uncanny. Kenny Werner lends powerful pianistic support and solo space on the quartet numbers, while Jamey Haddad’s percussion sparkles on the quintet pieces.
Metro Music does not always present Neumeister in his best venue, but until he emerges on his blockbuster (which is sure to come), this is the best we have.