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Kelly Rossum Quartet


Rossum Profile


Rob Scheps Core-tet


NJO & Friends

November 2005

Concert Reviews

Performance Review

Kelly Rossum Quartet exudes free-jazz spirit


By Tom Ineck 


LINCOLN, Neb.—The spirit of free jazz was alive and well the evening of Nov. 10 at P.O. Pears. In the hands of the Kelly Rossum Quartet, it contains that essential mix of imagination, adventure and humor.


Trumpeter Rossum, who spent his formative years in Lincoln in the late 1980s and early 1990s and now lives in Minneapolis, was accompanied by some of the Twin Cities’ avant-garde masters—saxophonist Chris Thomson, bassist Chris Bates and drummer J. T. Bates. All relatively young and uniformly daring in their approach to music, their compatibility was immediately apparent.


Always risky business, free jazz attempts to walk the thin line between the usual pandering to the public’s popular taste and the total alienation of listeners with music that is too foreign and self-absorbed. The Kelly Rossum Quartet walked that line with the deftness of aerial gymnasts. Call them the Fabulous Flying Free-Jazz Brothers.


“Lead Soldiers,” from Rossum’s 2004 release, “Renovation,” quickly established the essential elements of the best free-style music—silence, broken by carefully chosen notes, a subtle sense of blues and funk, an alert ear and a mutual interplay among musicians. The pianoless quartet, unrestrained by the keyboard’s formal harmonic structure, is especially well suited to this sense of freedom and adventure.


Rossum varied his horn sound with assorted mutes, hand-cupping techniques, alternate fingerings, slurs and pops. Likewise, Thomson ranged from tenor sax to soprano and used varied dynamics. On “Seduction,” Rossum employed the Mel-O-Wah mute to create an unconventional—and fascinating—tonal palette. He returned to the open horn for the riffing “In Rome,” introducing the repeated motif with Thomson’s tenor. The brief, set-closing march theme from “The A Team” was the band’s hilarious nod to 1980s pop culture.


Thomson’s mid-tempo “Welcome” opened the second half, followed by the frantic “Rush Hour,” which Rossum described by asking the listener to imagine riding a bike in traffic. The tune confirmed that the band doesn’t take itself too seriously. Charles Mingus’ ballad “Portrait” featured a bluesy, plunger-muted horn and absolutely gorgeous solos by Rossum and Thomson.


The Bates brothers worked hard on the funky “Toxic Fruit,” with Rossum switching to a Harmon mute for effect. The final piece was totally improvised. Based on a bass line, it inspired trumpet wails and tenor sax riffs, urged on by a metronomic rhythm courageously maintained by J. T. Bates.        


With the trumpet and sax often going head-to-head, occasionally in unison, and the bass and drums vying for their own time and place, the sound of the Rossum foursome inevitably harkens back to the classic Ornette Coleman Quartet with Coleman on sax, Don Cherry on trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass and Billy Higgins on drums.   


Since its inception nearly 50 years ago, free jazz has had a limited appeal for the general public, and the audience on this night was no exception. Helping to fill out the crowd were jazz history students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with pads and pens poised for note-taking, but looking somewhat baffled at this difficult-to-describe music.


Those who made the effort to listen and learn were well rewarded.




Kelly Rossum Quartet performed Nov. 10


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Trumpeter Kelly Rossum, a former Lincoln resident now living in the Twin Cities, fronted a quartet for a Nov. 10 performance at P.O. Pears in downtown Lincoln.


Kelly Rossum [Photo by Amy Sundby]The performance was sponsored by the Berman Music Foundation.


Rossum spent five formative years in the Capital City, earning his bachelor's degree in music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln under the guidance of Professor Dennis Schneider. He also credits others in the Lincoln music scene, especially pianist John Carlini and Jack Levick, the former music director at First-Plymouth Congregational Church. Rossum performed with the Plymouth Brass, recording 1992's "A Festival of Carols and Music for Royal Occasions," with Sir David Willcocks and the brass ensemble, the first of some 30 CDs bearing Rossum's name.


From Lincoln, Rossum moved on to the University of North Texas for a master's degree in classical trumpet performance before making his home in Minneapolis. His second CD as a leader, "Renovation," was released in 2004. As I wrote about it then: "The tricky, contrapuntal rhythm lines and interweaving solo statements immediately signal a bold and unconventional approach that, nevertheless, sounds somehow comfortably familiar... Rossum knows his way around the horn, but like (Miles) Davis, he respects the poetic weight of silence, the judicious use of pause and stutter and even the occasional fluffed note. It’s what sets them apart from the merely proficient."


For more on Rossum, see my Q&A interview here.


The rest of the Kelly Rossum Quartet consists of Chris Thomson on saxophones, Chris Bates on bass and J.T. Bates at the drums.


Chris Thomson toured the United States, Canada, Caribbean, and Japan with the Glenn Miller Orchestra for just over a year. Since returning to Minneapolis, he has been dedicated to developing original music projects such as the Afrobeat band Yawo and Les Fils Attivon; as well as an experimental music series of his own leadership. Of late, Thomson’s main projects include combining music and modern dance.


Chris Bates studied with James Clute of the Minnesota Orchestra and Chris Brown of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, later studying with famed jazz bassist Anthony Cox. He was a founding member of the Motion Poets, a Minneapolis-based jazz sextet that recorded three albums and toured extensively for six years, including a Berman Music Foundation-sponsored concert at Westbrook Recital Hall in Lincoln in October 1997. Currently, he leads two of his own projects: Framework and Low Blows.


J. T. Bates, a Minneapolis native, co-founded Fat Kid Wednesdays, a jazz
trio exploring original music. He was a primary force behind the Clown Lounge, a recent haven for modern jazz musicians in the Twin Cities. He continues to perform with Anthony Cox, Poor Line Condition and Fat Kid Wednesdays.



Performance Review

Scheps Core-tet does its missionary work


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Rob Scheps is a man on a mission to spread the good wordThe Core-tet (clockwise from left) is Bob Bowman, Tim Cambron, Rob Scheps and Roger Wilder [Photo by Rich Hoover] about jazz and to introduce his audiences to bold and beautiful new music.


Fronting his so-called Core-tet Oct. 8 at Café de Mai in Lincoln, Scheps seldom ventured into familiar territory and never resorted to predictable arrangements of standards. Listeners with adventurous ears are the chief beneficiaries of such missionary work. It must be equally exciting and challenging for his Core-tet comrades (Kansas City regulars Roger Wilder on keys, Bob Bowman on bass and young drummer Tim Cambron, an Omaha native).


The opener, “Olivia’s Arrival,” a lovely but little-known tune by baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, has been in Scheps’ repertoire for quite a while. Performed on tenor sax, he first introduced it to a Lincoln audience in January 2004, fronting a quintet with violinist Zach Brock. Progressive saxophonist Chris Cheek composed “Water Mile,” for which Scheps switched from tenor to flute.


The Core-tet next turned to a fast bossa, “Commencio (To Begin),” which segued into bop time for a fleet-fingered solo by Wilder. Scheps’ own “Visiting Tim Cambron and Rob Scheps [Photo by Rich Hoover]Royalty” contained suite-like passages that led in succession from piano to sax to bass and back to sax. Scheps’ swaggering, confident tenor attack and big tone never leaves any doubt as to who leads the band.


Herbie Nichols’ “Cro-Magnon Nights” approaches the status of a classic, although most people have never heard of this great Monk-like eccentric. Nichols died in 1963 in his mid-40s, and his marvelous compositions have been largely overlooked by the general public and musicians alike. Scheps paid tribute to the composer with a wild rendition of this tune.


“Ecotopia” is the title track of an obscure 1987 release by the eclectic world-music practitioners Oregon. Composed by Ralph Towner, it contains some beautiful changes and an irresistibly pulsating rhythm. 


Rob Scheps and Roger Wilder [Photo by Rich Hoover]Scheps and company opened the second half of the show with “You’re My Everything,” the closest thing to a standard played all night. It featured a nice tenor solo by Scheps, plus piano and bass solos, but eventually it segued into Bob Belden’s “Blues in My Neighborhood,” highlighted by another Scheps tenor statement and a great Bowman bass foray.


Scheps returned to the flute for the cleverly titled “Crimean Rivers” (think “Cry Me a River”). Miles Davis entered the program, but not with a particularly familiar tune. It was “Mademoiselle Mabry,” a bluesy, gospel-tinged ballad from Davis’ 1968 release “Filles de Kilimanjaro.”


One of the highlights of the evening was a swinging version of Horace Silver’s “Cape Verdean Blues,” a funky, earthy tune done with appropriate high spirits by the Core-tet. Walt Weiskopf’s “Insubordination” completed the performance with a fast and difficult, stop-time exercise in group interplay.    



Performance Review

NJO celebrates with a little help from friends


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—A local jazz organization needs a wealth of talented and generous friends and collaborators to survive 30 years. The Nebraska Jazz Orchestra celebrated the first concert of its 30th season Oct. 21 at the Embassy Suites with a lot of help from those friends.


Chief among them was pianist Rex Cadwallader, a founding member of the NJO and a prolific composer whose quirky, often complex pieces have found their way into the band’s repertoire throughout its three decades. Traveling all the way from his home in Connecticut, he held down keyboard duties all night and contributed five of the program’s 12 tunes.


Gershwin’s flag-waver, “Strike Up the Band,” opened the proceedings, in a raucous arrangement by Sammy Nestico of Count Basie fame. The NJO exhibited its reliably tight ensemble work.


“Stompin’ at the Savoy,” another traditional big band favorite, also received a more modern reading by arranger Bill Holman, followed by an arrangement of “All the Things You Are” from the Stan Kenton songbook. The trombones eloquently stated the theme, which was passed to the saxophones before Cadwallader’s brief by plaintive piano solo.


“M,” Cadwallader’s lovely tribute to pianist Marian McPartland, illustrated the composer’s penchant for unusual instrumentation and shifting tempos. Moving from a ballad to a fast waltz, it contrasted the woody tones of the clarinets and bass clarinet with brassier colors, highlighted by Bob Krueger’s flugelhorn solo.


“Lil’ Darlin’,” a staple in the NJO repertoire, was taken at a slow, dreamy tempo and featured a flugelhorn solo by legendary Lincoln trumpet teacher and player Dennis Schneider. Cadwallader’s rockin’ samba, “Hollywood,” had echoes of the 1970s, when it was written.


The Woody Herman evergreen, “Four Brothers,” opened the second half of the show with Dave Sharp playing the role of Herman on clarinet, while Ed Love and Ken Janak ably filled the tenor sax roles. The audience of nearly 250 showed its enthusiastic approval for this swing classic.


“Tilting at Windmills,” perhaps the highlight of the evening, exhibited the composer’s knack for constantly shifting tones and colors in the brass, using tenor sax, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet. Krueger contributed another fine solo on flugelhorn.


A six-piece combo tackled “Quicker Than the Eye,” an upbeat samba reminiscent of Chick Corea’s “Spain.” Drummer Greg Ahl kept the insistent cross rhythms churning behind Krueger on flugelhorn, Love on tenor sax, Pete Bouffard on guitar, Randy Snyder on electric bass and the composer at the piano.


Matt Wallace, another old friend and former member of the NJO, joined in the fray on Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.” Wallace dug in with an extended solo, even slyly quoting the “Get Smart” theme. Bouffard also delivered a smart solo. Given Wallace’s brief appearance in the spotlight, one wonders why he wasn’t given more time in the program. For a seasoned veteran who spent a decade working alongside trumpeter and taskmaster Maynard Ferguson, it must have seemed barely worth breaking out the horn and wetting the reed.


Cadwallader’s tune, “The Fabulous Flying Gambini Brothers,” finished the regular program with an all-out, three-way tenor battle among Wallace, Love and Rich Burrows. “Take the A Train” provided a fitting encore for the NJO’s swinging, 30th anniversary celebration.




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