Zuar got his musical start on trumpet but while studying at the New England Conservatory of Music, he soon switched from a trumpet major to composition. As evidenced on Musings, the Jazz world offers a collective “thank the stars” for his decision.
His education is top-flight and his instructors have had a great and ongoing influence on him. Some have even contributed to this album. Mike Holober, Zuar’s mentor, is the producer and Frank Carlberg, with whom he studied composition at NEC, is the pianist. The rest of the line-up is a rousing list of brilliant artists that includes personal favorites like Pete McCann on guitar, Lucas Pino on tenor sax, Mat Jodrell on trumpet and several more—19 in all.
Zuar composes all but one of the pieces on the album, that being Egberto Gismonti’s 7 Anéis. His musings take the form of introspection and retrospection and even a look to the future. In all, then, Christopher Zuar takes us on a personal tour of where he has been, is and is going.
There are moments that are incredibly touching and tender and moments that tweak your nose. Through it all, one comes to see Zuar and also to see oneself in the experience. The Musings of Zuar allow us to muse upon our own experiences. And we should be grateful for both.
The album opens with Remembrance. It is Zuar thinking on family, childhood and places of fond memory. The Carlberg piano opens with Dave Pietro on alto sax joining quickly. The full-bodied sound of the horns paints a bright picture of warmth and affection. Pietro is reflective and, often, sweet. Drummer Mark Ferber also catches the attention in his inflective playing.
One song in. You’re hooked.
Chaconne follows after with its nod and a wink to J.S. Bach’s counterpoint. In fact, Zuar takes Bach’s style and sets them in a rather fluid structure. The opening motif catches the ear in its singular simplicity which is transferred from the piano to the woodwinds and horns as the piano offers a Jazz counterpoint. The woodwinds take up the motif against the horns. The piano-bass-drums take center for a few bars and Carlberg, John Hébert and Ferber make the most of the moment. An elegant, beautiful work.
Vulnerable States is a bit of existential chaos that is incredibly rewarding. Jo Lowry makes her first appearance with her excellent vocal control and expression. Carlberg on piano is as cool as you want him to be. Ben Kono on alto sax gets a hot spotlight. The piece is exciting and expressive and Hébert and Ferber get in some of their best work on it.
But—Good Lord!—the arrangement for the horns and winds and their performance of it is intoxicating. The piano and bass closing is captivating.
Ha! (Joke’s on You) sounds like something Miles Davis might have cooked up in the Tutu days and trumpeter Mat Jodrell gets to carry that voice. Again, Hébert and Ferber turn up the groove. Enter Pete McCann with his beyond-Allan-Holdsworth-guitar phrasings. He shows again and again why he is so admired. The piece is intense and fun and a bit…sarcastic. Love it.
So Close, So Far Away is deliciously melancholy. The wonderful solo from tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby is warm but anguished as the winds and horns respond to his call. So well-written, the piece is as cathartic as Aristotle desired good drama to be. It is emotional without being maudlin, rather it is purifying in its raw power.
Anthem has the straight-forward precision and power of the US Marine Corps Band. It is themed on perseverance and Matt Holman’s flugelhorn sets the tone splendidly. Jo Lowry brings her vocals to bear again and John Hébert gets a great turn on his bass solo. Pietro (soprano) and Kono (alto) grab attention once again.
It is heady, even lofty, but it is determined. At moments, there is even a reverence and that only drives the point home.
Lonely Road is the penultimate track. It is an exercise in simplicity, written while Zuar sat at the piano and watched the transformation of Bleecker Street in New York’s Greenwich Village. Things do not, cannot, remain the same. The Laws of Physics declare it to be so and the currents of culture goran in affirmation. So says Lonely Road.
Zuar’s arrangement of Egberto Gismonti’s 7 Anéis closes the album. Frank Carlberg gets to take the lead and proves on of the reasons why he is so important to Christopher Zuar. Jo Lowry adds her spectacular vocals and Jason Rigby (clarinet and soprano sax) gets to capture the spotlight again in this optimistic and encouraging piece. Again give a listen to Hébert and Ferber. Can’t get enough of those guys.
Composed, arranged and conducted by Christopher Zuar, Musings is an extraordinary look through the kaleidoscopic lens of Zuar’s life and talent. He captures and compels emotions. He freeze-frames and focuses his outlook (and ours) on the surroundings that encircle us all. His music and his message are life-affirming and he enthralls us with his breathing in and out of the spirit of “yes.”
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl