The concept of Family is so fundamental to musical development, especially in New York City where so many families-by-choice evolve through shared musical experiences in its huge artistic melting pot. For the outstanding trumpeter/composer Chris Rogers, that family essence is at the heart and soul of his personal vision, and in full evidence on his remarkable debut album Voyage Home for Art of Life Records.
Chris has been blessed to be a part of multiple families – his deeply musical birth family that included his father, the legendary Salsa and jazz trombonist Barry Rogers; the extended family surrounding the Brecker Brothers (alongside whom Barry played in the seminal jazz fusion ensemble Dreams); and his own family of collaborators who he has met through his own participation in the ensembles of a virtual who’s who of contemporary music. All of these components are brewed together in the sumptuous feast that is Voyage Home.
“Listening to Mike, Randy and my dad playing together, and all Barry’s great solos on those classic Eddie Palmieri sides pretty much informed my concepts … and have been such towering influences upon me – that the music here can be considered a direct reflection of their incredible spirits.”
Dedicated to Michael Brecker (who lends his spectacular artistry on two tracks that Chris was fortunate to record with him before his tragically premature departure), this album also includes many artists – in person and through some individual track dedications (including Don Grolnick, Lew Soloff Mike Lawrence, Ray Barretto) – closely allied with the expansive Brecker Brothers’ legacy. But like all tributes in their finest form, the real homage is embodied in the creation of a personal statement in a singular vision by an artist honed through that spirit. The nine Chris Rogers originals contained here truly embody that concept. They also reflect the broad palette of personal musical experiences that Chris has had in his own journey alongside such diverse luminaries as Gerry Mulligan, Eddie Palmieri, Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich, Chaka Khan, Mongo Santamaria, Maria Schneider, Ray Barretto, Lee Konitz, Tom Harrell… and the list goes on and on. This long overdue first album as a leader blends all those ingredients into a heady brew that is adventurous, celebratory and captivating.
Chris has assembled a stellar crew for this maiden voyage, musically connected with him and with each other, powerfully contributing to the remarkable synergy that is at play throughout the album. The brilliant bass/drums tandem of Jay Anderson and Steve Johns provide flawless, seemingly telepathic support throughout, whether driving ferociously, warmly embellishing, or grooving smoothly Powerhouse pianist Xavier Davis melds with them perfectly on six tracks, adding a few stunning solos as well. Synthesizer/ keyboard wizard Mark Falchook joins the rhythm section on three.
In addition to the two tracks with Mike, the splendid tenor and alto saxophonist Ted Nash performs on four; while baritone saxophonist Roger Rosenberg and trombonist Art Baron perform on a very special dedication to Barry Rogers – enhanced by the great man himself on an introductory trombone cadenza (thanks to the blessings of technology) with a most fitting statement drawn from Palmieri’s 1965 classic album Mozambique. The great guitarist Steve Khan is included on three tracks, two of which include the fine conguero/percussionist Willie Martinez.
Drawn upon his Miles/Brecker/Harrell/Woody Shaw influences, Rogers’ impeccable trumpet playing – articulate, exploratory, adventurous, utterly musical and virtuosic, but never for its own sake or ostentatious in any way – is eminently showcased, but totally in keeping with the overall context of the album and always leaving plenty of room for the others to offer their own prodigious contributions. The repertoire is terrific, showcasing Chris’ superb compositional and arranging talents in a nicely diverse array of works that are exciting, lyrical and structured to provide inspired launching points for the exploratory tales told within. Ballads, Latin, hard boppish funk and blues, and rip-roaring smokers are all part of the mix.
There is a 3-track “suite” of sorts – the jaunty Rebecca born as a samba, evolving into straight-up Afro/Cuban; the beautiful love song Ever After; and the intriguingly angular Six Degrees – in which Chris adds his own notable keyboard skills to the mix on two pieces along with his trumpet – Harmon-muted on a pair. Khan is prominently present on all three with exceptional solos and his marvelous signature comping; and Martinez’ percussion mastery adds a fervid glow.
Roger and Art join Chris and Ted in a richly sumptuous 4-horn soundscape on the poignant paean to Barry Rogers, Ballad for B.R. launched by Barry Rogers’ “borrowed” radiant trombone cadenza, and featuring compelling solos by Chris, Nash (on alto) and Rosenberg. Nash – virile, muscular and boldly creative – is prominently featured on tenor with Chris on the front line for three other tracks. The title track Voyage Home is an atmospheric journey that evokes that profound essence of the progressive 60s’ Blue Note music in its daring, fully in-command approach with imaginative and confrontational solos by both hornmen. The Mask is a deliciously jagged funk-fest with soulful tenor, riveting trumpet and vibrant piano solos – in a groove that while relaxed is also high in heat. And the album closer, The 12-Year Itch is a jubilant funky-hard-bop shuffle with nicely swaggering horn turns.
Michael Brecker, who always brought his all fully to the music, is absolutely sensational on his two tracks. The album opener Counter Change is a straightforward hard-bop blues with some edgy changes that sets the tone for exhilarating Rogers, two-fisted Davis and sinewy, full bodied Brecker. Whit’s End (named for Whit Sidener, one of Chris’ teachers, and dedicated to Brecker) is a deftly syncopated romp driven by an insistent piano/bass ostinato with delightful rhythmic shifting from blazing drive to Latin and peppered with touches of rubato. Rogers’ thoughtful solo is beautifully constructed and sets the path for a monster Brecker solo – gutty, incandescent and absolutely scorching – that epitomizes his indelible and immortal spirit.
It may have taken a long time for Chris Rogers to finally make his own statement on record, but Voyage Home will certainly last in the memory and set the tone for much more to come from this extraordinary artist.