The Madison-based trumpeter and composer celebrates a new album inspired by his home state. Info/tix
In trumpeter Paul Dietrich's compositions, melodic and chordal elements tend to gently seep together into a stream that's definitely going somewhere but mostly invites the listener to sit still and ponder a while. "I still appreciate jazz that's a little more angular and jagged, but I've always kind of liked the chill and restrained stuff," Dietrich told Tone Madison in a 2017 interview about his second album, Focus. That album was recorded mostly with a quintet, but the new Forward, which he'll celebrate here, uses an excellent cast of 18 musicians to unlock more dimensions in Dietrich's original music. Dietrich himself plays trumpet on just one track here, conducting quite a few with players Wisconsin ties—including bassist John Christensen, saxophonist Tony Barba, vocalist Megan Moran, and trumpeters David Cooper and Russ Johnson—and some rising and established luminaries from beyond—like saxophonist Greg Ward, guitarist Matt Gold, and drummer Clarence Penn. Forward opens with four stand-alone compositions, two of them revisited from Focus ("Rush" and "Settle"), but the back half of the record is the five-part "Forward" suite, in which Dietrich, a native of Ripon and currently a Madionsian, pays musical tribute to Wisconsin.
Dietrich uses the big-band format in incredibly supple ways here—it's rarely about a cheerful chordal blast from the trumpets and trombones, but nearly always about space and spread. "Forward I: Perennial" begins the suite with saxes, trumpets, and Carl Kennedys trading quick, almost fragmentary phrases, letting us hear an upbeat if not quite funky side of Dietrich's work. Dietrich writes in the liner notes that he wrote "Perennial" to capture the feeling of returning home to Ripon and catching up with old friends. Johnson's trumpet solo here enriches the song's sense of comfort and familiarity, but still shares a bit of the searching, subtly avant-garde edge Johnson brings to his own work as a composer and bandleader. The nine-and-a-half minute "Forward II: Snow" puts Ward's saxophone at the center of a delicate harmonic buildup, in which the big band masses together in a procession of serene chords that have almost a droning quality. Dietrich says he wrote this one about "that moment, just after a significant snowfall, when all sound is muted," and Ward's solo here builds exuberantly upon that idea without quite breaking the band's collective hush. At this show, Dietrich will lead an 18-piece ensemble consisting of most of the players on Forward, including Ward, Gold, Moran, and Barba. —Scott Gordon