Some Monsterful Wonderthing

Peter Kogan

Original compositions written to take us on a tour of the jazz universe with stops in Rio, Harlem, New Orleans and Chicago.

Some Monsterful Wonderthing— we might paraphrase the album title as: Sometimes beautiful things arise from ugly situations. From October 2012 to January 2014, the management of the Minnesota orchestra locked out the orchestra’s musicians and cancelled concerts. It was a hard time for the musicians, but they found support in the community through the organization called Save Our Symphony (SOS—later changed to SOSMN after similar groups formed in other cities). During the long dispute some musicians would resign from the orchestra. For Peter Kogan, the orchestra’s timpanist, however, the unplanned and anxiety-ridden time off became an opportunity to rekindle his jazz side—composing new tunes and arrangements, putting together a septet and recording two inventive and—given the circumstances—surprisingly celebratory albums: Cornucopia, released in 2013 and now Some Monsterful Wonderthing (the mouth-twisting monicker will be explained more fully below). Peter describes this second album as a series of tributes, beginning with the title of the first track—“SOS Samba”— in appreciation of all the efforts of Save Our Symphony; the lock-out also figures in the title of the second track: “LOMoMO Mojo Jump”; “LOMoMO” is an acronym for Locked-Out Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. These expressions of support and solidarity with his fellow musicians are part of Kogan’s wider tribute, begun on his previous album, to predecessors from all over the jazz tradition. The tracks on the album take us on a tour of the jazz universe with stops in Rio, Harlem, New Orleans and Chicago. As composer, arranger and drummer Kogan displays his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz styles, grooves and tone-colors. SOS Samba honors the harmonic language of Antônio Carlos Jobim that influenced so much of the jazz of the 1960s. It features the Brazilian percussionist Rogerio Baccata and a lyrically sunny guitar solo by Cory Wong. In “LOMoMO Mojo Jump”, Kogan and company pay homage to the growling style perfected by Duke Ellington’s brass players like trumpeters Bubber Miley and Cootie Williams and trombonist Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton—and also, more generally, to the “jungle style” that Ellington brought to the Cotton Club in the late 1920s. That style had two different aspects—the primitive (a stereotype that Ellington could either undercut with irony or celebrate) and the modern (think of the importance of African masks to Picasso’s cubism). Kogan mirrors the dualism here by a contrast in tempo. The tune opens Ellington style with a bouncy bass solo a la Jimmy Blanton played by Brian Courage. Kogan’s temple blocks, echoing Ellington’s longtime drummer, Sonny Greer, are followed by a big band shout. In each solo chorus a walking bass alternates with African-inspired and up tempo grooves. Scott Agster’s trombone stylings recall the full range of Ellington’s famous trombone section: Nanton’s blues-inflected plunger mute growl, Lawrence Brown’s seductive cantabile and Juan Tizol’s Latin tinge (most famous from his tune, “Caravan”.) According to Kogan, “Some Monsterful Wonderthing” is a savage tribute in reverse—“an exorcism”—of a song from The King and I whose title is appropriately re-shuffled. I hear in its wild and crazy coruscations the clash of two formative decades: the button-downed fifties which often seemed to drip with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s sentimentality and complacency (the song mocked here celebrates female suffering) and the rebellious sixties as exemplified by the anarchic spirits of Charles Mingus (heard in the blistering opening solo by Brian Courage) and Frank Zappa. Again Kogan gives dualism a musical shape with two contrasting tempos. Pete Whitman, on soprano sax, Cory Wong, on electronically extended guitar and pianist Sean Turner take the music as far out of Broadway as possible. “Nola Joe” honors the spirit of the late pianist Joe Sample, founder of the Jazz Crusaders, with a groove that captures the spirit of a New Orleans Second Line procession. The sequence of blowing choruses includes the one extended drum solo of the album. The next track, “Gospel Tune” brings jazz back to its church roots with an original melody that pays tribute to “This Little Light of Mine” and features a call and response dialogue between the guitar and horns. “McKinley Morganfield’s Forever” is a tribute to the artist better known as Muddy Waters, father of Chicago Blues (with a nod to the blues infused music of pianists Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant). This track features Scott Agster as Muddy’s voice and fittingly soulful solos by guitarist Wong, pianist Sean Turner and, on tenor sax, Pete Whitman. “Live to Learn” features Charles Lazarus on flugelhorn. It’s a memorable, mellow tune that Peter composed many years ago with beautiful lyrics recently written by Jonathan Kalb: As a traveller I must find what to save or leave behind and to greet another day on my way. From the cradle to the grave these are choices that are made to learn to change and lighten up your way, and live to learn and love another day. Before you came into my life I was filled with pain and strife - There were changes I knew I had to make. Now it fills my heart to say that I smile for another day ‘cause I know that in your arms I can stay, and live to learn and love another day. (When my thoughts start sinking low, I know you’ll shine on me wherever I go.) As the years they come and go in my heart I really know that the winds of change have somehow blown my way. With you there by my side I can finally learn to ride through the darkest times and find the brightest rays, and live to learn and love another day. ©2014 Jonathan Kalb “Question Monk?” is a tune Kogan has been carrying around for many years; he found it, fortunately for us, in an old notebook. Like such Monk standards as “Straight, No Chaser” and “Evidence”, Kogan’s homage to Monk arranges and re-arranges pitches so that we are left to ask where the bar lines are—at times the tune sounds like it’s in three, then it morphs into four—and back. Joining in the tribute, Pete Whitman sounds like he is channeling Monk’s longtime saxophonist Charles Rouse. Now that the Minnesota Orchestra is back in business we can hope that the wonderful somethings of Kogan and company can continue to flourish even in happy circumstances. By David Schiff David Schiff, R.P. Wallenberg Professor of Music at Reed College in Portland, Oregon is a celebrated composer and author whose most recent book is “The Ellington Century” copyright 2012

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