Fans of large-ensemble music might notice the sturdy artistic thread that connects bandleaders Maria Schneider, Ryan Truesdell and Owen Broder. Schneider helped put the ArtistShare label on the map with albums by her acclaimed namesake orchestra. Truesdell, her close collaborator and co-producer, has further burnished his stellar reputation by producing Heritage, the new album by Broder’s American Roots Project ensemble. Broder, a woodwinds player, recruited 15 instrumentalists and arrangers for this album, which explores elements of folk, blues, classical and Americana music through the jazz lens. The combination of traditional folk tunes, Copland-like flourishes and superb musicianship result in a transcendent work of art—one that celebrates human imagination while evoking the natural beauty of windswept prairies.
Miho Hazama’s original composition “Wherever This Road Leads” and Jim McNeely’s arrangement of the traditional tune “Cripple Creek” both feature excellent work from violinist Sara Caswell, who is equally adept at solos and coloration (and who topped the category Rising Star-Violin in the 2017 DownBeat Critics Poll).
South African vocalist Vuyo Sotashe soars on “The People Could Fly,” an Alphonso Horne composition that draws on both African-American and South African roots. The centerpiece of the album is Truesdell’s stunning, 10-minute arrangement of the trad tune “Wayfaring Stranger,” featuring vocals by Sotashe, Wendy Gilles and Kate McGarry. Pianist Frank Kimbrough establishes a suspenseful mood during the opening segment of the piece, the arrangement eventually unfurling into a hypnotic performance that is at times mournful, majestic and even ominous. The other brilliant musicians on the album are bassist Jay Anderson, trombonist Nick Finzer, vibraphonist James Shipp, trumpeter Scott Wendholt and drummer Matt Wilson.
The beautiful graphic design and packaging of Heritage exemplifies the way in which an ArtistShare release can highlight a strong visual aesthetic without cutting any corners. (Broder and the American Roots Project will perform material from the album on March 14 at Jazz Standard in New York.)
-Bobby Reed, DownBeat Magazine