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Wood: A Collection of Musical Sculptures

If the fact that Michael Bocian, Billy Drewes, and Scott Lee have come together to make a recording isn’t enough to intrigue you, the music they produced might just blow your mind.

Polish-American guitarist, author, and composer Michael Bocian was influenced by Motown recordings, Hendrix, John Williams, Ornette Coleman, Julian Bream, and Jimmy Page. At the Smiling Dog Saloon Jazz Club in Cleveland, he connected with musicians and channelled his musical energy. There he met Mark Herzog, Dick Lurie, Ernie Krivda, Skip Hadden, Jamey Haddad, and guitarist Bill DeArango among others. DeArango was a particular inspiration and Bocian was drawn to his playing. Bocian became a respected musician and in 1982 Ginther Schuller produced Bocian on ‘For This Gift’, Bocian’s debut album for Schuller’s GM label.

Bocian has collaborated with musicians in settings across the globe. These collaborators have included sax/clarinet player Joe Lovano, multi-instrumentalists Billy Drewes and Paul McCandless, pianists Ken Werner and Larry Porter, vocalist Judi Silvano and a multitude of stars. His 1989 album ‘Go Groove’ (GM) featured drummer Rashied Ali, bassist Ed Schuller, and pianist Fred Hersch and in 1995 he recorded ‘Reverence’ on the Enja label with Dewey Redman, Cameron Brown, and Skip Hadden and a solo nylon string guitar work album ‘Premonition’ in 1999.

Bocian began Ulua Music in 2000 and the label has put out recordings including ‘Stork on The Hudson’, ‘A Play Beyond Maya’, ‘Here Just Visiting’ and ‘I Am The Blues’ which featured musicians Tom Rainey, Skip Hadden, Ratzo Harris, Dean Johnson, Bill DeArango, and others. Bocian’s latest releases are ‘25 Etudes for Contemporary Guitar’ (Ulua 2008) and a solo nylon string album based on the five Buddhist prayers called ‘The Five Elements’ (Ulua 2009).

Multi-instrumentalist Billy Drewes has been a musician since the early 1970s. He has featured as a leader and sidesman on over 150 recordings so far and has worldwide performance credits. On Monday nights, he has a residency at the Village Vanguard NYC.

Drewes’ collaborators have included Bill Frisell, Paul Motian, Toninho Horta, Herbie Hancock, Bill Frisell, Eddie Gomez, Randy Brecker, Kenny Werner, Joe Lovano, Gary Burton, Fred Hersch, and Peter Erskine, and many more. After his move to Boston from Long Island in 1970, Drewes played with worked with stars including Tony Bennett, The Boston Symphony, and Gary Burton, and led his own bands. By 1975, Drewes was a member of the Lionel Hampton and Eddie Palmieri bands and toured with Woody Herman.

In the 1980s, Drewes joined Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell in Paul Motion’s band and toured Europe and the US, recording the album ‘Psalm for ECM in 1982. Drewes has an interest in Brazilian and Indian Music and has recorded with and performed for dance troupes the Nikolais Dance Company and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre. In 1990 he joined the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.

Bassist and composer Scott Lee was taken by performances of the Bill Evans Trio with bassist Eddie Gomez. He studied under Dave Holland, Homer Mensch, and Charlie Banacas and during the late 1970s recorded with Chet Baker in New York. His collaborators have included Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner, Mose Allison, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Red Rodney, and Freddie Hubbard and he has worked with vocalists including Nancy Wilson, Chris Conner, Susannah McCorkle, and Anita O’Day. Lee has performed as part of the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s performance of ‘Gianni Schicci’, the World Premiere of Charles Ives ‘Universe Symphony’ and recorded with Laurie Altman’s Jazz/Classical quartets. He played on the CDs ‘On Course’, and ‘Convergence’, and co-produced Laurie’s latest CD, ‘Love Stories’ released in October 2021. Lee’s own compositions feature on the albums ‘With Ease’ (Cathexis 1999), ‘One Thought’, ‘Leaving’, and ‘Scott Lee – Streaming’ (Steeplechase 2020). As well as all this, Lee created and produced a film profile of legendary bassist Michael Moore, is a professor at Kutztown University (PA) and has authored a book.

There are many commonalities between the three musicians, not least many shared musician friends and acquaintances, so it is no wonder they recorded together as the trio ‘Wood’.

‘Sculptures’ (Resonant Artists 2023) is 15 tracks of varying lengths and the tracks may be relatively short but they contain a wealth of variation, eclectic time changes, dynamics, and moments of utter beauty.

‘Wake Up Call’ opens with simmering percussion before the bass enters with dynamic chords and the guitar adds creative lyrical tones and patterns. A short improvised track that implies just a hint of the intriguing music which follows. The contrast of ‘Wawzyn’ is profound, with pared-back harmonies and a classical harmonic development with the three musicians playing in a madrigal-influenced style, the bass humming under intricate, deft top lines. ‘The Greeting’ is led initially by the bass, in variations of phrasing before the guitar enters, the changes in volume and tone producing dynamism, and a gorgeous ebb and flow of the music. The mellifluous top line is underpinned in the final third by sonorous bass and interpretive percussion.

‘Grassy Knoll’ is gentle, calming and features interwoven harmonies, creating a tone poem, painting the picture of a green, grassy hill and perhaps the subtlest of breezes. Spirits arise with the flute and the listener is taken to distant places. The contradiction to this gentle atmosphere in ‘Tuning Up’ is almost designed to shake the listener out of any reverie they may find themselves in, with its tricky, contradictory rhythms, time changes, and almost comedic lines.

In ‘So We thought’ the bass and guitar duet in elegant, provocative yet reflective conversation. Although the guitar leads, the bass line captivates with its variation and flow.

‘Overture For An Orchard’ is beautiful, with wonderful woodwind and strings spinning out and back from harmonics with gusto and energy. A standout track, this features the trio in a complete interactive dialogue.

‘Uno Momento’ is short, the flute singing over Latin-influenced guitar tones, a moment occurring when there is a sublime harmonic coalescence before ‘Open Shut’ is a relatively simple interaction between the musicians, each setting forth in turn with their musical ideas, the others following at times, or others, like the flute around the 1.25 mark where the rhythm changes, try something different.

On so many tracks, a deeper listen reveals harmonies rising from the background, subtle, emergent, like wraiths. ‘Alop For Guitar’ is a showcase for the stunning virtuosity of Bocian and is pleasurable on so many levels, while ‘Estrimadura’ sees the sax lead in a beautiful, Mediterranean-laced melody, almost a song.

In ‘Drewzee’ the bass rises to create powerful evocative melodies, while ‘Biz-e-o’ is one of those tracks that reveals more each time you hear it. ‘Excuse me ma’am But the Show’s Over’ is dramatic, flamboyant, and mesmerizing.

This album contains elements of classical music, teamed with jazz chamber ensemble and free playing. Wood has created a musical calling card through a variety of distinct, yet intrinsically linked variations around the theme of excellence. There is a comedic effect at times and even a cartoonish element creeps in, but the overriding sense is of three musicians of class enjoying playing together and exploring where improvisation or collecting melody-making will take them. What you hear is the influences of decades and the visions of future music. Each musician is afforded space to demonstrate why they deserve their place on this stellar recording, from the delicate, fiery plucking to gentle arco style of Lee, or the melodic at times, ferocious at others, playing of Drewes, and the variety of techniques and styles of Bocian, this recording is one to savor and enjoy – at different times, in different moods and places.


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