Recent Recordings by Area Jazz Artists

Doug Horn is one of the stalwarts of the local jazz scene, but although he can often be heard playing in various combinations in our area, it has been over a decade since he has released any recordings. He makes up for this deficit with new CD Doug Horn Trio, High Standards (PKO,, a recital of fifteen tunes, mostly standards with a few original compositions by the leader added into the mix. Horn is joined by pianist Rick Roe and bassist Paul Keller, who obviously know each other quite well and are perfectly attuned to the setting laid down by the leader.

Although most of us primarily think of Horn as an alto saxophonist, he demonstrates here that he is equally well proficient on tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone and flute. This is a well-balanced, laid back and well-paced affair by three musicians who have nothing to prove: although most of the music is bebop-based, there are no pyrotechnics or attempts to impress with purely technical exercises. Rather, it has the feeling of three old friends having a conversation playing beautiful music. The focus is on the leader, but Roe and Keller provide short, perfectly crafted solos and introductions that are very much responsible for the intimacy of the drum-less trio, and all three musicians provide the kind of effortless swing that only years of experience can allow.

The mix of Doug’s different horns provides obvious timbral variety, but also accounts for some differences of approach. His alto playing has always been pure bebop, reflecting his love of the playing of the late Phil Woods. But he takes a different approach when he picks up the baritone on older standards such as “Samba de Orpheus,” “Sweet Lorraine,” or “Undecided,” with a style that while quite modern, often harkens back to pre-bop days.

The much-touted comeback of parts of Detroit has a more profound counterpart in artistic activity, although playing opportunities for more adventuresome musicians remain scarce. To counter this situation a group of young musicians, many of them graduates of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance, came together to create the Polyfold musical arts collective, which “produces concerts and recordings, hosts outreach events and educational workshops, and fosters creative community in Detroit and beyond.” They often play each other’s compositions in rotating ensembles and now that they have been releasing recordings of their efforts, it is hardly surprising to find many of the members showing up on each other’s CDs. Two such recent releases are described below.

Drummer, percussionist and composer Stephen Boegehold has just put out Way of Dreams (, leading a sextet with Andrew Bishop (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Molly Jones (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Kirsten Carey (guitar) and Ben Rolston (bass).

Boegehold favors complex compositions in which the borders between what is written and what is improvised are mostly erased. His pieces take unexpected turns, with changing rhythms and ever new contexts for improvisation. Sometimes a dense passage will resolve to just two players, let us say guitar and bass creating a solo, at other times tenor saxophones work with and against each other leading to a written passage in unison. Boegehold is a drummer who likes subtle rhythms and introspective moods and he takes full advantage of the different possibilities offered by different horns played by Bishop and Jones and of the various effects that guitarist Carey bring to the date.

The years of playing together in various groups allows all the musicians to work effortlessly together in a context that is more focused on group effort rather than on dramatic solos.

Soprano, tenor saxophonist, flutist and composer Molly Jones, who contributes so well to Boegehold’s album, has just released her own recording, Microliths (, with Marcus Elliot, tenor sax, Derek Worthington, trumpet, Ben Rolston, Betsy Soukup, Ben Willis, bass, and Jon Taylor, drums.

Jones is an extremely skilled instrumentalist, but while that is well on exhibit here, Microliths is above else a vehicle for her composing and musical organizational skills. Her charts are complex and demanding, but here, once again, the familiarity between her Polyfold accomplices facilitates precision and understanding of her arrangements. The compositions are often dense and exploit to the full the range of sounds offered by the unusual instrumentation with three bass players. Indeed, the bases open the album on the enigmatically named “Retrofusion.” Listening to these pieces, one never knows where the music will lead: a briskly repeated phrase, with different horns chasing each other, may lead to a unison repetition, but it could also be alternated with a secondary strain or morph into something completely different. Instruments raise out of the ensemble, enter into a duet or trio with others, then blend back on, or remain solo. Rhythms never remain static, but accelerate, decelerate, and often change completely, with lovely surprises, such as a breakout into a seeming Balkan pattern or a semi-classic stretch of bebop.

Much of the success of this album comes from the fact that like Ellington or Mingus, Jones writes charts for the specific musicians in the band, exploiting their individual sounds and technical abilities.

These two releases — and one should not forget the previous ones described in the previous installment of these reviews — testify to the profound importance of Detroit’s Polyfold collective.