Enter Tony Lustig. He is a Detroit native and studied at Michigan State University before moving on to Julliard. His move to New York City put him in touch (and in the line-up) with the big guys: Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride and more. His sound has captured the ears and attention of everyone who hears him. Wessell “Warmdaddy” Anderson calls him “the baritone saxophonist I’ve been waiting for all my life.” Maybe he’s the one we’ve all been waiting for.
Starting on violin as a child but, having no strings education in school, his parents offered Tony the alto saxophone left by his sister and that was that. He played around Detroit and learned a great deal before heading to university.
Now Tony Lustig has put that his education to use and releases Taking Flight (Bimperl Entertainment & Media), an appropriate title for a debut. He composed all the pieces on the album and shows himself a fine craftsman of music in addition to his equally fine musicianship. He is not shy, he is not reluctant, he attacks with vigor and, often, ferocity. Yeah, we’ve all been waiting for this guy.
With Tony Lustig (baritone sax) is Michael Dease (trombone), Samora Pinderhughes (piano), and two phenomenal rhythm players in Ben Williams on bass and the excellent Ulysses Owens on drums. Just seeing Owens in the line-up got me excited for my first hearing of the album. These artists do not disappoint.
The album opens with Change is Comin’. Pinderhughes introduces the piece on piano and soon a cool New Orleans-style swing is underway. There is Gospel in the air but that sweet NoLo sound owns the day. Pinderhughes, Williams and Owens lay down the groove and Lustig works all over it. Mike Dease contributes a hot trombone solo with muted menace. Williams’ solo is warm and inviting and sets up the swinging close. Brilliant.
Fraytown is as soulful as you could hope. The baritone as lead is thrilling and the other artists are in splendid support. Pinderhughes piano is wonderfully relaxed and so stylishly narrative. Lustig himself provides emotionally stimulating delivery as the corps’ crescendo makes you want to stand up at full attention. And that is only the half-way mark of the song. Lustig is unrelenting in his emotional approach and then comes the unbelievable bowed bass of Williams. These guys are in such universal agreement in their delivery! Soulful, bluesy Jazz the way we love it.
And it only gets hotter with Prometheus. Tony launches the piece but is quickly joined in duet with Dease’s trombone. Williams and Owens just roll the floor as Pinderhughes keeps a tight ship and lets the horns blow. This lights your hair on fire!
And why not? In mythology, Prometheus brought fire to the human race and now Lustig brings a new fire. Unlike Prometheus, Lustig will be rewarded and will go unpunished by the gods. But pay careful attention to Williams and Owens as they provide fuel for the fire. Pinderhughes’ solo is just as inflammatory and the shout chorus is ties it all up beautifully. Good Lord.
For Wayne slows it all down into a gentle ballad. The slowed-down tempo allows the artists to express their tonality and control and it revels another level of their brilliant artistry. It is a moving piece that is full of affection and remembrance. The piano and bass are like the presence of someone dear and Owens’ cymbals are like air stirred by someone’s spirit. Lustig himself sounds out a call that is full of thoughtfulness. For Wayne struck me right through the heart. An amazing piece.
Taking Flight, the title track, opens with the group (except for Dease) in melodic unison. It is clear in track after track that Lustig has just the right players with him to express exactly what he means to say. It is hopeful, even fanciful, but is also determined and devoted to its end. Owens is the driving force here and he makes it come alive with Pinderhughes’ piano alongside. Energetic and optimistic, this is one of the real highlights of the album.
A tight funk groove follows in Serving It Up. Lustig lays down the smoking motif and Williams solos off of it beautifully. Lustig returns to the center and the baritone blows the house down. You can’t get enough of this and, thankfully, it just keeps coming at you. Serving It Up is right!
The variations in style, theme and structure are amazing coming from such a young artist. The collected tracks sound like they came from Chicago, New York, New Orleans and even Memphis and yet maintain an integrity that comes from a singular source—the mind of Tony Lustig.
Proving Lustig’s love for Greek mythology, On the Wings of Icarus follows as the penultimate track. Dease returns with warm intonations on the trombone and the piece, indeed, sets off to soar. It is placid and easy, like Icarus’ flight across the warm waters of the Mediterranean. The piano, bass and drums swing in cool agreement below and the ascending trombone of Dease is riveting. Lustig’s baritone brings the melody into the lower realms, but ascends quickly, not avoiding the temptation of flying too close to the sun. Eventually, the sonic wax melts and Owens brings it crashing to Earth.
The album ends with Burnin’ Grease. This sounds like it would have found a home in Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra. The trombone is certainly on fire and Lustig joins in to add fuel to the flame. These guys know how to swing and they love doing it. Seriously, the whole quintet are like hounds on the trail of the groove. Impossible to get enough.
This is a debut? The Tony Lustig Quintet sounds like they have been writing and performing these piece for decades. But Jazz is all about learning your craft—not just in the classroom—but in apprenticeships with players who are your betters. Tony Lustig has learned through the artists with whom he has performed and has developed quickly into a top-rank composer and performer. If Lustig is Taking Flight on this album, what will he sound like at 33,000 feet?
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl