Russ Nolan

Russ Nolan’s virtuosic improvisations with soprano tenor saxophones, as well as his difficult compositions and arrangements have achieved an extraordinary balance between melody and harmony. Relentless is the fourth album by Russ Nolan, an Illinois-born musician based in New York. He is joined on this CD by Manuel Valera, a 2013 Grammy-nominated Latin jazz pianist. The rhythm section is completed by Brian Fishler and Michael O’Brien, the drummer, who both played on Nolan’s 2012 album Tell Me. Yasuyo Kura, percussionist, adds Latin flavor to three of the eight tracks. Nolan’s interest in rhythm became clear when Chris Potter, a teenage saxophonist, came through Chicago with Red Rodney’s band. This gave Nolan his first lesson. Nolan recalls that “he could have spoken to me about scales, harmony and all the other stuff,” but he “really impressed upon me that horn players must have the same mastery in time as rhythm sections and cannot rely on them for their support.” Nolan also learned to salsa dance nearly seven years ago which has helped to further enhance his rhythmic sensibility. He says, “Instead of having the music in your head, it’s also inside my body.” It’s something that drummers do naturally because they use a physical instrument. But for someone who only moves their hands, a horn player feels the music differently. Relentless opens with the title song, one the six Nolan compositions. Nolan borrowed Wayne Shorter’s chord changes for his tune. He then created a fast, samba-like melody over which he made a syncopated melody. His soprano and Valera’s piano play the A portion of the head in unison, and the bridge in harmony. Then he takes off solo. The saxophonist explains that he is always learning from the greats. He will either write a contrafact or study a set chord changes, then take it out of its realm.” “If it’s not a ballad I’m going bring it up or vice versa.” Nolan is the tenor on “Cassa Cerrado” where the angular melody is played in 6/4 over an infectious Afro-Cuban groove. This is one of many tunes that Nolan composed during his seven-month stint as leader of an organ trio with drummer Fishler. Nolan’s lyrical voice is evident in the Stephen Sondheim ballad, “Not While I’m Around,” (from Sweeney Todd). It begins with a gentle waltz and then shifts into a swinging samba for Valera’s solos. Nolan is back on tenor with references to Herbie Hancock’s song “Speak Like a Child”, which informs Nolan’s “It Ain’t Child’s Play,” a samba characterized by rhythmic superimpositions. The saxophonist stated that “It’s a suitable title for anyone trying the chord changes.” Nolan’s original arrangement of “Solitude,” features a warm, robust tenor and O’Brien’s bowed basse playing the classic Duke Ellington melody. Valera’s atmospheric ostinato patterns on piano are also featured. Nolan said, “I knew from Manuel’s technique and some things he’s written in his past that he would treat this in a jazz but neoclassical manner.” Nolan’s original arrangement of “Solitude,” features his warmly powerful tenor and O’Brien’s bowed basse playing the classic Duke Ellington melody, while Valera’s atmospheric piano ostinato pattern is played. Nolan states, “I knew from Manuel’s technique and some things he’s written in the future that he would treat this in a jazz but neoclassical manner.” Bomba, a Puerto Rican musical style that is known for its unique rhythms, is typically played in 4/4. Nolan however treats Mr. Moore, a 12-bar blues with Bomba beats, is played in 4/4. However Nolan treats “Mr. You know that jazz musicians cannot leave anything alone. The tenor player jokes that we have to mess it all up. He claims he wrote it to John Moore, a bartender who frequently requests him to play John Coltrane’s “Cousin Mary”, which is also an A-flat Blues. Nolan refers back in his composition. Nolan returns to soprano in “Limbo,” which has a 7/4 time signature. According to the composer, the song “Limbo” features two distinct voices competing for attention. The listener is left guessing, and the two voices finally join in the final phrase. Relentless ends with “Abakua”, a lively Afro-Cuban number for 6/8, featuring Nolan on tenor. It is named after New York’s Abakua Afro-Latin Dance Company director Frankie Martinez with whom the saxophonist studied for almost five years. Nolan is thrilled to have Manuel Valera on the album, New Cuban Express (2012), nominated in the Best Latin Jazz Album category of the Grammy Awards. Nolan, a Havana-born pianist, says that he has inspired him for many years through his music and his great bands. “Manuel’s a composer and an improviser, a complete player,” Nolan said of Michael O’Brien the bassist. “He’s one the most well-rounded bassists and he plays many styles. His rhythmic pulse and timing are extraordinary. His rhythmic pulse is extraordinary. He studied African drums while still in high school. Russ Nolan was raised in Gurnee, Illinois and was born April 30, 1968. At age 10, he began playing clarinet and then switched to saxophonist at the age of 10. He says that he was attracted to the sound, power, and feel that saxophonists offer. His primary interests were basketball and baseball and he hoped to one day become a professional athlete. After he graduated from the University of North Texas with a B.A. in jazz arranging and saxophone, he decided to return to music. He spent three-and-a-half years studying at the University of North Texas. in jazz performance. He studied with Joe Daley, Chicago’s legendary tenor saxophonist. After graduating, Nolan made a living as a musician in wedding bands and moved to Chicago. Rich Corpolongo, a local saxophonist, taught Nolan, as well as visiting New Yorkers Dave Liebman, Kenny Werner, and Chris Potter. Nolan was convinced by pianist Werner to move to New York City in 2000. Werner would also play on Nolan’s 2008 CD, With You in Mind. However, Nolan had spent six years working as a collection agent, selling natural gas and insurance, and six years away music. He says that the management and sales skills he learned at Corporate America are now being used in the music industry. “Every musician must become a salesman, because very few agents and managers are willing or able to take on artists.” Nolan, a 10-year resident of Sunnyside, Queens, has performed with his own band at Smalls Jazz Club, Jazz at the Kitano, as well as in Canada, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Orleans, Chicago, Washington, DC. While on tour, he often conducts workshops or clinics. Since March 2013, he has been performing for dancers with his own salsa quartet. He is a member and former leader of an all-star group that has played at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan’s Upper West Side jazz services once per month for the past ten years. Relentless is the latest album in a string of Nolan albums that started in 2004 with Two Colors. It was followed by With You In Mind in 2008 and Tell Me in 2012. One critic said that Nolan “plays from a place deep inside himself” and was “a player you’ll remember long after the last note.” Tell Me received a positive review. Now, with the release of Relentless, other critics will surely be heaping further praise upon the melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically adventurous playing and compositions of saxophonist Russ Nolan

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