Dan Meinhardt, a composer and saxophonist, debuts on ears&eyes Records as he leads his group of Chicago-based musicians in their eponymous album: Outset. It is defined as “the beginning” or “the start”, and it is fitting for this collection, which includes original music. This title also introduces the group in a boldly honest way. Meinhardt brought this music to life thanks to a grant from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Individual Art Program. This release features Justin Copeland as a trumpet player, Tim Ipsen as a bassist, and Andrew Green as percussionist. ears&eyes Records is based in Chicago and champions new voices in modern jazz. Outset’s album is no exception.
Outset, the band that became known for its music, has been around almost as long as Meinhardt has been living in Chicago. Meinhardt’s relationships have been with each musician for 4 to 22 years. Meinhardt and Ipsen met in kindergarten. Meinhardt made the decision to form a band because he wanted to make Chicago his home. Meinhardt says, “I wanted Chicago to become my new home after I graduated from grad school.” But until Meinhardt had his own band, he didn’t feel able to call Chicago home. “I was fortunate to have a lot of friends in the city who wanted to make that happen.” The recording of the album at Chicago’s Locallective was the culmination two years of road testing and refining material.

Meinhardt is patient in his writing and playing, has a clear sound with no vibrato that resembles Joe Henderson. He’s light but sharp when he needs it to be. Meinhardt said that he tends to prefer less forceful music. Meinhardt’s compositions are a reminder of this fact: “Players such as Joe remind me that it is possible to have a soft vocal range and still communicate a lot.” Outset’s compositions bring out Meinhardt’s understated, more-is-more mentality. Meinhardt’s solo on “Dropped”, performed by Meinhardt, Copeland, shows that Meinhardt is still able to produce an aggressive sound. His solo introduction to “New Rain,” however, demonstrates his great control and restraint on the instrument.

Outset’s minimalist orchestration captures the simplicity and clarity of Meinhardt’s writing. This group does not have a guitar or piano accompaniment so they often play with expectation. Meinhardt and Copeland perform a lovely saxophone-bass duet in “Points for Trying”, while Green plays the drum beat with their horns. “New Rain,” a subdued track, has Green and Ipsen playing texture more than usual. Because of the simplified instrumentation, there is a greater emphasis on melody and mood than complicated harmony. Meinhardt says, “I didn’t set out to create a cohesive collection of music. Each song was so unique that it tied them together better than I could have imagined. I wanted to make each piece feel alive and bring out the vibe.

The chordless quartet sounds richer than you would expect from the instrumentation used throughout the set. This is a testimony to Meinhardt’s interaction with these musicians. Meinhardt, Copeland and the other hand are one in the same. They each have great success on their own; combined, it’s a feat in coordination as on “Points for Trying”, or “Bixotic.” You also have the legs of Ipsen & Green, driving the music wherever it needs to go. This includes the punk-funk of Dropped, the breakdown of “Something Mellow,” and ending in the elegant swing of “Wayneish.”

Dan Meinhardt, a ten-year-old from Kenosha in Wisconsin, began playing the saxophone when he was ten years old. He studied alongside Steven Jordheim, a classical saxophonist, and Fred Sturm (a renowned jazz composer/educator), upon his arrival at Lawrence University. Meinhardt, who had just completed his Bachelor’s degree at Lawrence University, moved to Eugene to complete his Master’s degree at the University of Oregon, where he was mentored by Steve Owen, a saxophonist/composer.

Dank to his ability to be clear and restrained in all his collaboration relationships, Meinhardt is increasingly prominent in Chicago’s scene, both as a leader or sideman. Meinhardt gained valuable insights from working with other leaders, which helped him to focus on Outset’s music. Meinhardt says, “Because it’s a lot of fun to play with different musicians, I have been able talk about and form stronger opinions about my music, finding clearest ways to express what I mean.” Meinhardt laughs and adds, “Probably even more important was finding the times to not say anything at all.” Outset is Meinhardt’s perfect conversational balance.

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