While even Wikipedia notes that “the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band and chamber music literature” before all other musical genres, multi-talented veteran composer/bassoonist Michael Rabinowitz has taken its distinctive dark tone colors for a wild, stylistically eclectic ride over the years as a co-founder of the Charles Mingus Orchestra and as a sideman with numerous jazz luminaries, including Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano, Anthony Braxton and Wynton Marsalis. Outside the jazz realm, let’s not leave Elvis Costello off the list.
In his liner notes to Next Chapter, his seventh solo album, he paints the inspiration for the title a bit abstractly, telling us it’s a “direct reference to a marked change in my life this past April when I was able to focus more time and energy pursuing my passion as an improvising bassoonist and composer.” Whatever that shift was, it’s allowing some glorious, rhythmically diverse, melodically engaging and harmonically challenging expressions leading a grand quartet (pianist Matt King, bassist Andy McKee, drummer Tommy Campbell) that first joined forces at Django in NYC and evolved organically into a sublime studio session.
The majority of the eight mood swing driven tunes are penned by Rabinowitz, from the at first subtly charming, then lyrical and stylishly swinging “Lydian Dream” to the alternately slyly soulful and rambunctiously wild “Tuesday Blues” featuring a jamming King melodica solo. Yet curiously, the track named “MRab,” whose title, dense drum solo intro and quirky, whimsical sense of strut, swagger and freewheeling fun make it feel like an reflection on the bassoonist’s life and career right now, was penned by King (whose piano solo after a lengthy bassoon exploration is naturally a highlight. In a single tune, the newly formed quartet truly captures their quickly realized intuitive sense of each other’s individual creative flow.
King also contributes the plucky “Twelve Note Samba,” a fanciful twist on Jobim’s “One Note Samba” that features the one two three punch of King melodica solo, followed by his high energy piano improvisation and then a simmering solo by Rabinowitz, with King providing buoyant harmony lines. The quartet also adapts the chord changes of Johnny Mandel’s 1964 film composition “Emily, artfully arriving at a fresh, plucky melody and cheerful vibe they call “Emily Alt Line.” Rabinowitz’ “One Four All” is truly that, starting out with a snappy exploration of the bassoon’s sax-like possibilities (in case we were ever in doubt) before evolving into a spirited ensemble romp.