Written By Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor (jazzpolice.com)
Soon to be a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s prestigious jazz program, drummer Mike Malone is already a veteran bandleader, performer and composer. He’s led his Mike Malone Big Band and ensemble Malonious Thunk, serves as student director of UW-EC’s Jazz IV, presents clinics to area high schools, performs with area superstar saxophonist Sue Orfield, and co-curates a biweekly Acoustic Café Jazz Series. Somehow he also managed to find time to record a quintet album of mostly original works, ready for release as Overalls and Airplanes. He’s joined by former UW-EC student Brian Handeland (tenor sax), who recently completed graduate work at the University of North Texas; Eau Claire native Josh Gallagher (Fender Rhodes), an alum of the Brubeck Institute and graduate of the Berklee College of Music; Jake Kobberdahl (trumpet), just a sophomore at UW-EC; and North Texas University graduate Ken Perkerwicz (bass). The band will celebrate the CD release on April 11th at the State Theater in Eau Claire.
“This project represents a variety of connections with people I have met through coming to this area,” said Mike. “Brian Handeland was one of my first musical friends and I was lucky enough to spend 2 years in school with him…Josh Gallagher is someone I was lucky enough to play a gig with my freshman year at Eau Claire for the Eau Claire Jazz Fest. I was immediately jaw-dropped by his playing…Jake Kobberdahl is the youngest member of the group, only a sophomore. When he arrived to Eau Claire, I was really impressed with his sound and he always came out to my gigs and sat in…Ken Perkerwicz is the only non Eau Claire member of the group…He’s a great musician who just finished up at North Texas and has a really creative sound on the bass….We had worked together a couple times as a unit and had minimal rehearsals, so it was all fresh… They really came through for me and I am super grateful for their work!”
Overalls and Airplanes (which Malone co-produced with UW-EC Jazz Studies Director Robert Baca) is a laudable first effort, seven originals from the leader and a final track (“Curtains”) from one of Mike’s recent employers, Eau Claire sax star Sue Orfield. The result is an album covering a wide range of colors and moods. And although I am not typically a fan of electronic keyboards in modern mainstream contexts, Gallagher on Fender Rhodes wins me over from the first notes, using the specific strengths of melodic electronics to create mood and sustain chords, yet usually emphasizing pianistic character, giving us the best of organ and acoustic piano throughout.
A bass vamp opens “Life Without Logic” as the rest of the band enters, keyboards setting an ambient, “European” backdrop, Kobberdahl beginning the story with a pleasantly wandering trumpet. Handeland continues the journey, his tenor adding some interesting plot twists with Malone soloing over the bass vamp. Gallagher gallops out of the box on the faster paced, swinging “How About Now,” a decidedly boppish horn romp propelled by bass and drums. Shifting gears again, “For Your Consideration” is a lovely ballad led by Handelman, growing via subtle twiss and turns, the saxophonist’s slightly gritty tone awash in wistful reflection.
“Wilbur” offers a sharp-hitting, foot-tapping melody courtesy of Gallagher’s organ-centric vibe; he wastes little time getting deep into the corners of the tune and making it fly. Kobberdahl makes the trumpet sing and (deliciously) whine; Handeland answers with some gnarly commentary of his own, all punctuated by popping drop-ins from Malone. Perkerwicz solos with muted assertion before Malone jumps in with his own multi-sided conversation. The title track is a showcase opportunity for Handeland’s melodic, meandering tenor, Gallagher’s ambient keys, and Kobberdahl’s songful flugelhorn, with Malone adding some riveting accents. This arrangement is pleasantly laced with European cool and control.
Three of the most assertive tracks come at the end. The funky “Like Silver” finds Malone on Latin percussion as the band moves into an early Hancockian mood. Perkerwicz gets a chance to take center stage against Malone’s pulsating rhythm, while Kobberdahl shines bright and snarly. “Malonious” has a Monkishly jagged intro, Handeland turning melodic somersaults in the opening round with Malone the rhythm guardian. Adventurous runs from Gallagher and Kobberdahl are followed by quick-fire trades among Malone and his bandmates. Appropriately titled for a final track, Sue Orfield’s “Curtains” has a soulful, almost gospel feel, starting with the two horns in unison and tight harmonies. After a stately bass solo, Kabboerdahl reinforces that soulful seriousness; the two horns raise it another notch as they weave around each others lines. It’s a glorious finale to a very effective introduction to the musical mind of Mike Malone and the talents of young musicians who will surely have a lot to say as they find their way on the modern jazz scene.
Mike Malone and Malonious Thunk will celebrate the release of Overalls and Airplanes on April 11th in Eau Claire at the State Theater (316 Eau Claire St), sponsored by Volume One magazine as part of their Backstage concert series. The opening act will feature Sue Orfield’s band, Acoustihoo. 7 pm, $7 cover and CDs will be on sale for 1/2 off ($5) that night only. More information at email@example.com or www.malonedrum.com