The trick about falling down rabbit holes is knowing how to get back
out. The insistently inventive composer, arranger, bandleader and
educator Ayn Inserto has built a brilliant career around her gift for
designing fantastical but slyly logical musical landscapes and
crafting sonic adventures marked by sinuously surprising melodies,
Technicolor harmonies, and arrestingly vivid voicings. Due for release
on Summit Records on September 21, 2018, the Ayn Inserto Jazz
Orchestra's first new album in a decade, Down a Rabbit Hole,
reintroduces her sly and imaginative musical world, a realm populated
by some of jazz's most expressive improvisers.
In many ways Inserto conceived Rabbit Hole to showcase her three special guests - trumpet star Sean Jones, tenor sax great George Garzone, and trombonist John Fedchock - along with her exceptional cast of players many of whom have been with her since she launched the group in 2001. "I saw the album as an opportunity to feature these three amazing musicians, people I consider good friends and musical influences," says Inserto. "They're three artists who don't necessarily play together so it was really fun to bring them together."
A protege of legendary trombonist/arranger/composer Bob Brookmeyer, Inserto has ascended to jazz's top ranks over the past two decades, earning numerous awards and commissions. Her last release, 2015's Home Away From Home (Neuklang Records), documented her collaboration with Italy's acclaimed Colours Jazz Orchestra. With Rabbit Hole, she's landed back on home turf. From the first track "Three and Me," her bespoke sensibility provides her guest triumvirate with passages tailored to their musical personalities.
She arranged "BJ's Tune" as a vehicle for Jones' gorgeous trumpet, a sound as rich and glorious as any on the scene. His poised solo is a case study in melodic development as the band gently churns underneath his ascending lines. Inserto doesn't really write programmatic music, but the briskly swinging "Mister and Dudley" does capture the frisky energy and quotidian pleasures of spending time with the tune's sources of inspiration. Inspired by Fedchock and bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton's two namesake dogs, the piece evokes the pooches with affable affection.
Inserto recorded the title track, which was commissioned by the Amherst Jazz Ensemble, on her last album with Colours Jazz Orchestra, but that sojourn underground was a relatively calm excursion. Unleashing Garzone on the tempestuous chart results in a whirlwind adventure with his Mad Hatter saxophone inciting the band's tea party rumpus. The album's centerpiece is Inserto's two-part suite pairing of "Ze Teach" with "And Me," a commission by Madison Technical College. The first piece is inspired by Brookmeyer (who signed off on notes to Inserto as "Ze Teach") while the second movement is a powerhouse statement driven by her sensational rhythm section with guitarist Eric Hofbauer, pianist Jason Yeager, bassist Sean Farias, and drummer Austin McMahon (whose supple touch and architectural sense of form always elevates her music).
The various connections manifesting in Down a Rabbit Hole are captured in the album's cover art by Kendall Eddy (a former bassist for the band). Inserto commissioned him to create the artwork, which features various layers of symbolism - like Boston's skyline in the background - readily discernible to a sharp-eyed observer. "There's the brook running through the field, which stands for Brookmeyer," Inserto says. "There are the three giants who drank the potion, like Alice, and became the big artists. I'm running around amidst all the madness." Crazy like a fox, Inserto has created her own musical Wonderland with her orchestra, a sensational aural universe easily accessible with a little step down a rabbit hole.
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From the liner notes: "The first time I went to Italy, I fell in love. Upon returning home, I continued to crave the new place that I discovered. I kept going back, and each time was better than the first. But it wasn't till I was invited by Massimo Morganti in 2008 to Senigallia did I understand the true meaning of Italy. That week changed my life. I discovered an ensemble that performed my music beautifully, musicians that were receptive to my teaching concepts, friendships that last a lifetime, a new place of beauty and a deeper exploration of the soul of Italy in its cuisine; I was home.
Within this recording you will find elements of my experience in Senigallia and the Marche region: the joyous "festa" in Subo, the lush performance by the band and ardent trombone solo in La Danza Infinita, the hard groove in Hang Around and the excellent execution of the horns in You're Leaving and Rabbit Hole. I cannot thank Massimo Morganti enough for making this possible, the Colours Jazz Orchestra for working so hard on this music, the guys at Naive Studio for giving us such a spectacular experience and Johannes Wohlleben for lending us that extra ear and meticulously recording this album. When I think of how my Italian experience had culminated into that week of recording in Fano, indeed, I am overwhelmed with joy, warmth and gratitude. Massimo Morganti and the Colours Jazz Orchestra have become my new family, my home away from home.I cannot wait to go back for more."
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On this recording, built around the theme of celebrating those who inspired her, Ms. Inserto pays homage to influences ranging from her family, friends and bandmates to former teachers (Brookmeyer, Dave Eshelman and John Maltester) to eminent jazz musicians (Michael Brecker, Frank Foster and Steve Lacy). "Her genius is that while her music is harmonically sophisticated, there is a sweet, flowing energy that makes it accessible and enjoyable for any palette," writes Garzone in the liner notes. "You can feel the personal touch in each piece ranging in emotions from remembrance to merriment, and hear the gratitude she has to each influence in her life.
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Clairvoyance is Ayn's first recording as a leader. This album features her re-arrangements of three Garzone compositions as well as her own originals. The pieces feature the incredible musicality of the ensemble as well as the amazing solos of Garzone and Brookmeyer. There is a wide contrast in moods from piece to piece, and this album promises an interesting ride.
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