Percussive Notes, September 2013

Peter Kogan
Peter Kogan, principal timpanist
with the Minnesota Orchestra, is a great
example of a skilled percussionist who
happens to make his primary living as
a classical musician. Actually, Kogan
spent six years playing jazz and blues in
New York City and also played drumset
with the Honolulu Symphony. Not only
does Kogan play drumset on Cornucopia,
he also composed all of the tunes and
helped produce the CD.
After listening to the recording, it is
obvious he has a great knowledge of jazz
history, style awareness, and gets around
the drums with ease. The tunes vary in
instrumentation from a quartet to an
octet and include Kogan, Craig Hara,
percussion; Mary Louise Knutson, piano;
Tommy Barbarella, piano; Cory Wong,
guitar; Dave Williamson, bass; Charles
Lazurus, trumpet/flugelhorn; Brain
Grivna, alto sax/tenor sax; Kenny Holmen,
tenor sax, soprano sax; and Tom
Ashworth, trombone.
“Frenchy Dog,” is an energetic, bluesy
bop tune that the composer describes
as “out of the Monk/Parker/Gillespie
mold.” “Fats Is Beautiful,” is a waltz intribute to Fats Waller. It is followed by
“Jones Jam,” a tune influenced by Wayne
Shorter’s recordings with Reggie Workman,
McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Jones.
It alternates between moderate swing
and West African 6/8 grooves. Kogan
calls the title cut, “Cornucopia,” a “pop
samba with harmonic influences from
Joe Sample and Stevie Wonder”—a good
Keeping with the ever-changing pace
comes a tribute to Duke Ellington called
“Blue Duke,” followed by a slow 3/4
funk/fusion tune called “Blues for Mary
Lou,” referencing Mary Lou Williams.
The CD concludes with “Bags Check,”
dedicated to Milt Jackson, which alternates
between a straight-ahead blues
groove (kind of “down and dirty”) and a
double-time bop feel.
The recording contains an enjoyable,
versatile array of tunes, played by fine
musicians, and appears to be a showcase
of styles dear to Kogan’s heart. His
knowledge, skill, and passion for music
are evident. At times, the drumming on
the swing charts sounds more like big
band playing with big set-ups and hits—
almost like he is releasing all of that unspent
energy from counting all of those
measures of rest behind the timpani. (I
can relate!) Congratulations to Kogan on
a wonderful project.
—Susan Martin Tariq

Aptly titled, Cornucopia offers a bountiful variety of straight-ahead jazz styles and grooves,  as driven by drummer and composer Peter Kogan.  Resisting the temptation to solo more than others (as some might expect a drummer’s album to resemble an extended open-drum solo), Kogan shares the bounty of his colleagues’ talent by featuring, them prominently on every tune. Most striking throughout the album is Kogan’s sense of touch that is not only idiomatic but also tasteful and musically sensitive.  From the opening drum break of the bebop-infused “Frenchy Dog," these original compositions engage listeners with many moods, ideas, and improvisational treats.

Kogan’s inspiration for each piece provides a clear reasoning behind his compositional thought and also the dialogues he creates between drums and the other musicians.  The title track shimmers with the sounds of auxiliary percussion and instrumental soloists Cory Wong (guitar) and Kenni Holmen (soprano sax), in collaboration with pianist Tommy Barbarella to effect the deep listening of an intimate chamber ensemble.  “Bags Check” is a hip mix of Booker T and the MG’s  (I hear the “Green Onions” line in the bass) and Ellingtonian blues-inspired melody, all underpinned with an Art Blakey groove sensibility.  The album is thus also a cornucopia of references to jazz masters whom Kogan has long admired, here re-energized through his own interpretive lens that shares a generosity of spirit to support soloists Barbarella, Wong, Holmen, as well as Charles Lazarus (trumpet), Brian Grivna (alto and tenor sax), Dave Williamson (bass),  Tom Ashworth (trombone), and Mary Louise Knutson (piano).

For listeners new to Peter Kogan, a fun fact: Drumset is not his “day job.”  He is the Principal Timpanist of the renowned Minnesota Orchestra.  His lifelong pursuit of dual proficiencies in musical genres is becoming a thing of the past in this age of over-specialization.  That Kogan maintains this duality as a vital, necessary component of his musical being is a testament to that fundamental quality of Musicianship that is tantamount to achieving excellence in any career, regardless of the style of expression.

Sarah Schmalenberger, PhD
Associate Professor of Music
University of St. Thomas



Minneapolis Star Tribune

jazz & more mostly in Minneapolis-St. Paul

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Our 10 best-album picks for the 2015 Twin Cities Critics Tally and why     

Each year for the past several years, Star Tribune music writer Chris Riemenschneider has kindly included me in his annual Twin Cities Critics Tally, in which a bunch of us music and arts writers pick our top 10 Minnesota albums of the year. He knows that most of my choices will be lone flags flapping in the breeze – I listen to jazz, new music and classical – and none will have any influence on the TCCT’s ultimate goal of identifying the 20 Best Minnesota Albums of the Year. But he asks me anyway and I’m happy to shine some Strib light on artists who might not get much otherwise. All that being said, here are my top 10 (in alpha order, not ranked).

Peter Kogan, “Some Monsterful Wonderthing” (self-released on Koganote)  We lucked out this year with two recordings of brand-new hard bop composed by area musicians, performed by area musicians and recorded in Minneapolis. (The other album is Dean Sorenson's  Sextet, "Colors of the Soul".)

Drummer Peter Kogan spent several years as principal timpanist for the Minnesota Orchestra, playing jazz on the side (and more seriously during the lockout of the musicians during a lengthy labor dispute, when he suddenly, if unwillingly, had the time). The CD features all-original tunes and top area musicians. Kogan’s core band for “Monsterful” is a septet with Pete Whitman on tenor sax, fellow Minnesota Orchestra member Charles Lazarus on flugelhorn and trumpet, Scott Agster on trombone, Cory Wong on guitar, Sean Turner on piano and Brian Courage on bass, with appearances by New York-based Brazilian percussionist Rogerio Boccata and pianist Tommy Barbarella. Two great bands playing tight, swinging original music. I couldn’t choose between them.


Percussive Notes


Some Monsterful Wonderthing
Peter Kogan
Koganote Records

In October 2012 the management of
the Minnesota Orchestra locked out all
its musicians and cancelled concerts until
January 2014. Some musicians moved
on; some stayed and found support in a
local organization called Save Our Symphony.
Timpanist Peter Kogan, however,
decided to devote his time off to creative
pursuits, rekindling his love of jazz
drumming and composing new tunes
and arrangements that culminated in two
albums: Cornucopia(2013) and this new-est album,
Some Monsterful Wonderthing

The drumming is just as you might
imagine from a world-renowned timpanist:
a masterful touch that is perfectly
supportive of the music, at times blending
into the texture alternating with
moments of soaring to the fore. Kogan
has a gift for writing memorable melodies
and infectious grooves. The tunes
are surprisingly upbeat, considering the
situation under which they were created.
The opening tune is no exception. “S.O.S.
Samba” is a bouncing and joyful samba,
which features Kogan and Brazilian
percussionist Rogerio Baccata. A second-
line inspired groove anchors “Nola Joe,”
which eventually gives way to Kogan’s
only extended drum solo on the album.

It isn’t often that we get to hear a
career orchestral timpanist play jazz
drumset to his own originally composed
music. But forget that; this is just terrific
music-making—great tunes, great playing, period.
This project is also a great
lesson and a twist on the old saying:
“When life gives you lemons... improvise!”

—John Lane