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New-Trad Projects

Concert Review - July 2010

New-Trad Octet mixes a musical gumbo

By Tom Ineck

Berman Music Foundation


LINCOLN, Neb.—As if custom-ordered to create the right ambiance for the Crescent City sounds of Jeff Newell’s New-Trad Octet, the temperature for the band’s June 22 performance hovered near 90 and the saturated air hung heavy with humidity. Welcome to Nebraska’s version of a New Orleans summer’s eve!


The oppressive heat and threatening weather kept some people home, but 4,500 made the effort and were amply rewarded with the best concert of the weekly 2010 Jazz in June series, with just one Tuesday to go.


In the course of its ambitious, multi-cultural repertoire, the eight-piece ensemble summoned musical traditions from yesterday and today and from near and far. The resulting gumbo challenged some listeners’ preconceptions and helped students of music to make the connections, all while instilling a sense of fun.


The band began at a slow-drag tempo with “St. Louis Blues,” the classic tune in which W.C. Handy himself combined musical traditions and rhythmic influences. It accelerated to a New Orleans street-marching beat featuring a

trumpet solo by Victor Garcia, at 27 the youngest member of the octet. Tuba player Mike Hogg provided provocative counterpoint to Ryan Shultz’s bass trumpet solo, and Steve Million managed to “funkafize” the whole thing with some soulful keyboard licks as the front line accompanied with assorted percussion.


Newell paid homage to an early influence with his composition “Boots: To the Man Who Ruined My Life,” on which he managed to capture Randolph’s trademark sound on alto sax—an infectious mix of catchy melody and country twang. Guitarist Neal Alger added to the effect with his solo. Sousa entered the picture with Newell’s brilliant arrangement of “The Manhattan Beach March,” complete with a Haitian beat, horns blaring like a traffic jam and a cooking rhythm section.


Among Newell’s many musical interests is a fascination with traditional American hymns. Again mixing traditions, he gave “There’s Power in the Blood” a backbeat that drew soulful solos from Million on organ and piano and from Alger on guitar. The leader then joined drummer Rick Vitek for a duo interlude before taking an inspired alto solo that squalled and honked with r&b fervor, as though preaching the gospel from a jazz pulpit. Million’s “Crazy Five Jive” was a complex tune in 5/4 time that had the composer soloing B-3 style, followed by a roaring bass trumpet solo and a section in which the brass riffed madly over Vitek’s powerful percussion work.


The tune morphed into a New Orleans-style funk before gradually deconstructing with brassy abandon and reemerging as Bobby Watson’s lively “Heckle and Jeckle.” It was a perfect vehicle for Newell’s lithe and supple alto sax playing as he soloed against tuba and rhythm. Garcia took an exciting solo, demonstrating a bright tone and powerful lungs. Throughout the evening, electric bassist Tim Fox and Hogg on tuba defied their instruments’ traditional roles, with one playing rhythmically and the other more melodically. Here Fox got his opportunity to solo, while Hogg provided counterpoint. The set ended with “I Like It Like That,” a tune from The Dirty Dozen Brass Band songbook that featured great ensemble playing with a calypso beat and a tuba solo. In the street-marching tradition, several

members of the band wound their way through the audience, but no second-liners accepted the invitation to join them.


The New-Trad Octet’s connection to New Orleans was even more evident in their performance of “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” made famous by Louis Armstrong. Of course, Newell’s version contained a pronounced backbeat and added a distinctive rumba rhythm. As though possessed with the spirit of Satchmo, Garcia’s solo leaped several octaves to reach the high notes and snarled with confidence before returning to the theme.


On Sousa’s “Washington Post March,” organ, guitar and bass created a funky undercurrent for another unconventional arrangement. Newell’s “St. Gabriel Parish,” a tribute to those who did not survive Hurricane Katrina, had an appropriately mournful tone. The most formal arrangement of the evening came on “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” Alto sax, bass trumpet and electric bass provided the solemn introduction, followed by

Garcia’s more optimistic trumpet. The whole band returned on the theme with obvious respect for the city and the musical traditions to which they owe so much.


For an encore, the band served up a crowd-pleasing “Amazing Grace,” done funky, New Orleans style and featuring a rocking John Scofield-inspired guitar solo by Alger, and a bop-inspired alto solo by Newell. Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” was dedicated to former University of Nebraska band leader Jack R. Snyder, a teacher from Newell’s early Nebraska days. It was a nice finishing touch from a native son to a beloved mentor.