Cornucopia

Peter Kogan

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Jazz is beautiful! Original compositions written in tribute to jazz greats Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Milt Jackson, Mary Lou Williams and Wayne Shorter. Performed by an octet of some of the finest Twin Cities jazz musicians

JAZZ IS BEAUTIFUL. Just in case you have forgotten this fact, or despaired you would ever feel that way again, sit down and savor the tracks on this album, all composed and arranged by Peter Kogan aka the much-esteemed Timpanist of the Minnesota Orchestra. Kogan’s interest in jazz goes back to his early years; I remember him turning me on to Art Blakey, Max Roach and Joe Morello when we were both in seventh grade. (Peter was already studying timpani with the legendary Saul Goodman, of the New York Philharmonic.) Just a few years later we caught Ornette Coleman’s Town Hall debut—Town Hall being one of the few jazz venues open to the underage set. While pursuing classical percussion at Juilliard, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Symphony Kogan remained a double agent, devoting himself whenever possible to jazz and blues drumming. You can hear Peter’s life-long devotion to jazz in every note of his compositions. Stylistically, they span the history of the idiom from the 1930’s to the present. His tributes to Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Milt Jackson, are not pastiches, but fully contemporary meditations on their distinctive styles refracted through Kogan’s own sensibilities. The timpani may be one of the loudest members of the symphony orchestra, but the great orchestral timpanists, and Kogan in particular, play it with the greatest possible finesse and attention to nuances of intonation and color. Peter has surrounded himself with a masterful group of soloists, their versatile talents bound together by his exquisitely deployed drum kit sonorities and endlessly inventive rhythms. And the swing is never in doubt. The album kicks off with Kogan’s latest composition, Frenchy Dog. The name, he tells us, comes from the featured item (frankfurter on baguette) on the bar menu at the Vincent A Restaurant across the street from Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall. Kogan performed there with Le Jazz Cool All Stars after concerts with the symphony. He describes the piece as “bop blues...out of the Monk/Parker/Gillespie mold.” I also hear a good dose of 50s funk à la Horace Silver, especially in the steamy solo work of Charles Lazarus, Brian Grivna, Tom Ashworth and Mary Louise Knutson. Kogan composed Fats Is Beautiful as a tribute to Fats Waller. “It melds Honeysuckle Rose and Jitterbug Waltz with some T. Monk like interruptions”. Defying expectation the music, a slow and sumptuous waltz, portrays the mellow Fats rather than the comedian of Your Feet’s Too Big. This Fats must have gone to school with Erik Satie and fallen in love with the flugelhorn along the way—as you will too as you listen to Charles Lazarus lay down the tune. Jump ahead fifty years in jazz history. The working title for Jones Jam, Kogan tells us, was WORKJONESMCWAYNE “in reference to Wayne Shorter’s albums JuJu and Night Dreamer (with his incredibly great writing), with Reggie Workman, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, the colossus of the drums”. The tune rides on Kogan’s subtle West African groove, a cross cultural hint beautifully echoed in Cory Wong’s guitar solo. The infectious tune does not appear in its entirety until the end after all the soloists have had their say, an effect of delayed gratification which Kogan borrows from Sibelius—in his other life Kogan has spent a lot of time with the Finnish master. Now for a lateral move—to Brazil with the title Cornucopia. Kogan describes the song as a “pop samba with harmonic influences from Joe Sample and Stevie Wonder”. A breezy pentatonic melody with a warmingly chromatic bridge, Cornucopia is a perfect vehicle for the atmospheric arabesques of soloists Kenni Holmen (soprano sax), Tommy Barbarella and Cory Wong. Back to the past. Kogan penned the slow ballad Blue Duke as an “homage to Ellington influenced by his 1930’s versions of Mood Indigo and Sophisticated Lady.” I hear the intermediary presence of another Ellington adherent, Charles Mingus. Here Brian Grivna channels Johnny Hodges, Tom Ashworth summons up the spirit of Lawrence Brown and Tommy Barbarella plays the Duke. And once again, jump ahead. Kogan tells me he was knocked out by Mary Lou Williams’ album Zoning from the ‘70’s and in Blues for Mary Lou, he returns the favor with a funk tinged chart in an unusual slow three groove that gives his soloists plenty of room. Kogan also says that “the tune is an attempt to reconstruct the blues form but retain some of the feeling and formal pull of the ‘turnaround’...the melody is primarily in the hands of Dave Williamson on the bass”. Bags Check brings the album full circle, returning us to the Blue Note/hard bop phase of Kogan’s formative years. Like Cornucopia and Fats is Beautiful it dates from Kogan’s jazz interregnum between his classical gigs in Pittsburgh and Minneapolis, when he played jazz and blues in New York. He originally wrote it for the blues band “Uncle Boogie and the Boogiemen.” He says that he carried some of the ideas for this disc in his head for the long time between those New York days and the present—a Mozartian feat of memory for which we can all be grateful. Dedicated to Milt Jackson, Bags Check is an extended blues with a bebop blues pattern interrupting the minor blues. DAVID SCHIFF Portland, Oregon (Composer and author David Schiff is R.P. Wollenberg Professor of Music at Reed College, Portland, Oregon.)

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