Meet Natalie Cressman
Natalie Cressman doesn’t waste notes. The up-and-coming trombonist’s new album Unfolding, with her group Secret Garden, has a coolly resonant, springlike quality. Cressman’s compositions are remarkably translucent, her motifs are strong and memorable, yet this isn’t an album of big crescendos or pummeling intensity: you have to wait until her mentor Peter Apfelbaum’s long, intricately constructed tenor solo on the final track for any of that. As you might expect from a trombonist, there are occasional latin tinges, with a handful of wry allusions to classics from decades past. An airily pensive atmosphere dominates here, although some of the songs are lighter and more carefree. She brings out a singleminded performance from a crew of similarly up-and-coming players: trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg, tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, keyboardist Pascal Le Boeuf, Dutch bassist Ruben Samama and drummer Jake Goldbas.
Insistent Lee Morgan-style riffage kicks off the opening cut, Flip, Cressman establishing a terse, contemplative vibe with her initial solo. She also sings, in a clear, unadorned high soprano, contributing vocalese here and then singing her own wistful lyrics on Whistle Song, which artfully maintains a low-key backdrop for more of her cooly soulful trombone. Then the band takes a stab at reinventing Honeysuckle Rose as neo-soul: not necessarily a bad idea, but this one should have been left on the cutting-room floor.
Cressman likes echo motifs, so it’s no surprise she’d use that as the title of the next track, an attractively direct jazz waltz set to subtle rhythmic shifts with a lot of nimble pass-the-baton. She follows that with the funk-tinged, pointillistically dancing Skylight, featuring rather considered and strong solos from Samama and Rosenberg. Her take on Goodbye Pork Pie Hat is especially ambitious in that she sings Joni Mitchell’s lyrics. While she doesn’t have Mitchell’s range or nuance – who does? – the band rises to the occasion and outdoes the cast on the Mitchell version, maintaining an elegaic bittersweetness. They follow that with the artfully constructed Waking, with its echo effects and arpeggiated voicings – it has the feel of a catchy Weather Report number but with a more comfortably subdued rhythm section.
Reaching for Home allusively reaches for a 40s jazz-pop ballad feel, with nimbly incisive solos back-to-back from tenor and trumpet. The final track, That Kind, gives Apfelbaum a launching pad for one of his signature raveups: it’s a clinic in how to create something magnificent out of the simplest building blocks, Cressman following it with her most memorable contribution to the album, her trombone shifting in and out of modal shadows.
Not that this should be a big deal, but it’s worth mentioning that Cressman, a member of Apfelbaum’s NY Hieroglyphics, is 20 years old. Her trombonist dad Jeff is a member of Santana; she also has a money gig on the jamband circuit. This album establishes her as someone to keep an eye on.
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