New CD: Louis Romanos Quartet "Take Me There"

There is no element more essential to the creation of great jazz than the elusive substance of true synergy. And that quality is in great abundance on Take Me There, the new CD by the Louis Romanos Quartet. To achieve transcendence, it's essential to aim high – a lofty goal impressively achieved by this quartet of remarkable musicians: Alex Noppe on trumpet and flugelhorn, guitarist Dan Sumner, bassist Neal Starkey, and Louis on drums.

The 12 outstanding compositions were all composed and arranged by Romanos. All of them were spawned from place of deep emotional meaning for the composer, but Louis prefers to allow the audience the freedom of interpretation.

"I leave the meaning of these performances up to the listener. It is my hope they will inspire creativity, playfulness and freedom to soar."

As with other great composing drummer bandleaders – like Max Roach and Joe Chambers – Louis' brilliant talents as composer also color his drumming, with his instruments finely tuned and his playing so sonorous that it must be called lyrical. As the guiding force behind the music, his compositions provide an ideal canvas for the other musicians' imaginative brush strokes.

But achieving musical artistry at the level offered here demands that each of the four musicians brings everything they possess to the music, making it their own within the framework that Louis provides. That they do, from beginning to end of this 12 chapter novel. Sumner and Romanos' musical connection goes back to 1997 when they co-founded the New Orleans-based ensemble Permagrin. Starkey and Louis have performed together on different occasions since 2005 and while Noppe's involvement only goes back to 2012, the connection among all four men is tremendous, achieving an ensemble identity that sounds like they've been performing together as a unit for much longer.

There is a clear-cut ensemble identity of shared vision and the willingness to suppress ego and virtuosity for its own sake to deliver the message. Seamless interplay, knowing anticipation and total empathy abound. Solos are not simply supported, but punctuated, enhanced and further emphasized by the other musicians. In the classic tradition of the profound art form of jazz, the music tells stories and paints pictures, with Louis' drumming providing the plot continuity and unifying the color pattern on each canvas. Every piece – from ballad to scorcher – builds in intensity to its appropriate climax without ever losing its focus on the thematic context.

From the first moments of the opening track Songo, the listener knows that this will be a fascinating excursion. A fractured ostinato bass vamp drives the ascending/descending pattern of the theme with stunning interplay between trumpet and guitar - trading solos and phrases, playing in duet and offering lines of support under each other's emerging statements. It closes with a marvelous drum solo, so visceral and musical that it sounds like an ensemble of hand drummers.

There are some bold and daring choices in the sequencing as well, with pairings of pieces with a similar mood or context that might initially seem repetitive, but in actuality simply extend the meaning and intent of each composition. For example, two works in a mesmerizing Middle Eastern mode are placed back to back. Ania opens with guitar and bass in a slow ostinato vamp. Sinuously slithering trumpet enters over the bass, with the guitar offering oud-like support. Exceptionally colorful and lyrical drums brace the solos. Klezmer immediately follows in a vivid dance of trumpet and guitar in tandem fired by rolling drums and rollicking guitar driving the piece – and the two-track "suite" - to a riveting climax.

Likewise, Second Song, a gentle, lilting but rhythmically insistent ballad featuring a beautiful flugelhorn solo and a melodious, deeply wooded bass solo is followed by the aptly titled Lovely. The guitar and bass set the thematic tone for the flugelhorn to state the beautiful melody. Warmly lyrical and buoyed by harp-like guitar strokes, the music builds in intensity, bringing both pieces to an impassioned finale.

Serenity evolving into passion is also at play on Darling. The winsome theme on flugelhorn is followed by virile bass and soulful Grant Green-ish guitar and taken out by Noppe to a fervent closing. Far Away follows with its sumptuous, captivating theme recurring to frame bass and guitar solos as the exquisite ballad gently unfolds and evolves, bringing both pieces to a poignant ending.

Graceful and refined describes Changes, a slowly evolving piece, richly textured and marked by a soulfully twanging guitar solo built upon Louis' subtle but firm rhythmic thrust. Something Different is built on an unusual staccato single note bass drone. The guitar-stated theme melds into a spirited solo of bent single notes and vehement chords leading into a potent flugelhorn solo, with both musicians shaping their notes to further tell the story, like writers with a poetic touch.
Spiritual evokes the magnificent John Coltrane piece of the same name with its arco bass, long tones, modal chords, rolling tom-toms and majestic flugelhorn line. It evolves into a brightly charged, staccato themed sizzler, somewhat calypso-like at times.

The heat is on for Brüggermann Jam, a briskly syncopated, very angular, relentlessly driving journey, with scintillating guitar/bass/drums interplay laying the foundation for a scorching trumpet solo. A fiery, exciting, audacious, take-no-prisoners adventure. Blazing is an appropriate word for the album's final track, Green in Blew, a vigorous piece with a contrapuntal guitar and trumpet theme in overlapping call and response. Incandescent, adventurous and palpably exciting, this short piece brings this extraordinary album to a breathtaking conclusion.

For those who feel that jazz at its best demands the fearless pursuit of innovative adventure, passionate musicality and the loving expression of beauty, Louis Romanos' Take Me There will be a most bountiful experience.

Louis Romanos Quartet
"Take Me There"

Louis Romanos-Drums
Dan Sumner- Benedetto Guitars
Alex Noppe-Horns
Neal Starkey-Bass

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