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Adam Meckler Orchestra Album Release Party
April 6 @ 7:00 pm$25 – $30
The Adam Meckler Orchestra (AMO) is an 18 piece ensemble that plays the original music of trumpeter and composer Adam Meckler. The band features many of the Twin Cities’ most exciting young musicians. Though the band is founded in the traditions of jazz, it blends soul, R&B, hip-hop, and pop music to achieve it’s unique and grooving sound. The AMO released their debut album “When The Clouds Look Like This” in 2014 to critical acclaim. Later that year, it was listed by iTunes as one of 2014’s best jazz releases. The AMO follows their debut release with an album that explores collaborations with Hip Hop artists Toki Wright and Harjinder, as well as vocalist Cameron Kinghorn (Nooky Jones), multi-Grammy award winning vocalist J.D. Steele ( Prince, Donald Fagen, George Clinton, The Sounds of Blackness), and International trumpet soloist Rex Richardson. When not conducting the AMO, Meckler performs regularly with The Hornheads (Prince), Youngblood Brass Band, Nooky Jones and others.
“As artists, we’re not a monolith,” says Adam Meckler. “We’re influenced by a range of things.” For the 34-year-old, Minneapolis-based trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger, that means a sweeping expanse of sounds from jazz, popular music and beyond—classic R&B; neo-soul and hip-hop; the gorgeous advanced harmonic language of Maria Schneider and John Hollenbeck; the bluesy passion of Count Basie; the joyous traditions of New Orleans, from early jazz to current brass bands; the state-of-the-art pop-funk of Prince; the consummate modern trumpet work of Roy Hargrove and Dave Douglas; the beautifully gritty ensemble interplay of Mingus; and much more.
In 2019, when young jazz musicians are both better-trained and more open-minded than they’ve ever been, plenty of small groups are doing inspired work by melding disparate influences. But Magnificent Madness, the new Ropeadope release from the Adam Meckler Orchestra, is something different, something greater: a thrillingly contemporary update of the jazz big band that both embodies Meckler’s musical generation and showcases his singular vision (not to mention his masterfully expressive trumpet playing). Fun yet moving, hard-grooving yet also poignant, Magnificent Madness highlights the working musicians on the thriving Twin Cities scene while featuring special guests like the multi-instrumentalist and singer/emcee Harjinder; J.D. Steele, part of the Minnesota-based royal vocal family the Steeles; the emcee and Berklee educator Toki Wright; the nonpareil trumpet soloist Rex Richardson; and Cameron Kinghorn, the lead vocalist in the rising neo-soul band Nooky Jones, which he cofounded with Meckler and drummer Reid Kennedy. In the end, Meckler’s concept invites new listeners into the big-band tradition as he redefines that legacy on his own terms.
Magnificent Madness is the result of a recording session that was expertly produced by the acclaimed trombonist and composer JC Sanford, who also conducts the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble; Meckler handled the later mixing and producing duties for the ensemble as well as the collaborations. The album kicks off with its delightfully trippy, groove-soaked title track. (The father of two young children, it’s named for a specific kind of energy that any parent should recognize.) The product of an oddly specific commission—to write a quarter-note-equals-100, straight-16th funk tune with mixed meter—it features storytelling solo work from keyboardist Steven Hobert and Meckler, whose electronically enhanced trumpet is a sonic throwback to classic fusion. Tinged with tension and grief as well as strength, “Let’s Live” was crafted as an homage to the Black Lives Matter movement and is one of several cuts featuring fluidly virtuosic guitar work from Ethan Elseth. Pulling from the more direct groove elements of “Let’s Live” and escalating in intensity, “Let’s Live – part two” provides a head-nodding bedrock for Harjinder’s conscious lyricism and Steele’s stirring overdubbed vocal harmonies.
“Jennsong” is among the most purely affecting moments on Magnificent Madness, as it should be: It pays tribute to the brilliant bass trombonist Jennifer Werner, who died in September 2017, just 29 years old. In addition to appearing with ensembles like the Bloomington Symphony and the Encore Wind Ensemble, Werner was an essential and dedicated member of the Adam Meckler Orchestra, and appeared on its 2014 debut album, When the Clouds Look Like This. “I was teaching when I found out,” Meckler says. “I left work and went home and started writing this piece. So it’s music that is really meaningful to me, and I think to the band as well—music has that power to give us a space for processing loss.” Bursting with heartrending harmony, Meckler’s tribute is also littered with opportunities for collective improvisation—an effort, he explains, to give each band member a chance to make his or her peace with Werner’s passing.
“Our Death Under Your Pillow” is Meckler’s pointed effort to write a big-band/rap vehicle in which to feature his longtime hip-hop hero Toki Wright. (“I got my first Toki mixtape in 2008, right when I moved to town,” Meckler says proudly.) Still, as is often the case with Meckler’s composing, jazz-rap only begins to describe the track; with influences from Kneebody, neo-soul and the avant-garde, its best analogues might be postmodern hip-hop producers like J Dilla and 9th Wonder. “Fall Leaves and Apple Trees” takes its title from a fond memory of Meckler’s: juicing apples at the home of the late Fred Sturm, the trombonist, composer and arranger Meckler considers one of his most crucial mentors. A tour de force, “Fall Leaves” strives to capture the totality of Sturm’s memory—his genius as a composer-arranger as well as his prankish streak and his infectious joie de vivre. “I tried to use a lot of Fred-isms,” Meckler says, referring to strategies like collective improvisation and polytonality. Ingeniously, bits and pieces of melody and harmony crop up that seem to subvert the composition, a musical metaphor for the cancer that led to Sturm’s 2014 passing. At the piece’s end, following a section infused with New Orleans spirit, saxophonist Nelson Devereaux sounds Meckler’s stunning theme alone. The album closer, “The Tao of Heavy D,” as funky as its title implies, belongs to guest soloist Rex Richardson, whose playing here will surely have trumpet students transcribing into the wee hours.
As gifted an educator as he is a performer and composer, Meckler holds faculty positions in trumpet and jazz at Macalester College, Minneapolis Community and Technical College and the MacPhail Center for Music, in addition to his frequent freelance work writing for various school ensembles and teaching as a guest clinician and director. He’s contributed to albums by the Youngblood Brass Band and Todd Clouser’s A Love Electric as a sideman, and his collaborative R&B project Nooky Jones has been called “sophisticated, seductive and smooth neo-soul music” by the Star Tribune. As a contributor to the Hornheads, the renowned horn section best known for backing Prince in the early to mid-1990s, he’s recently found new opportunities as a touring trumpeter and session musician. Meckler’s recordings as a leader include the 2009 quintet project For Dad and his orchestra’s debut, When the Clouds Look Like This, which was listed among 2014’s Best Jazz Releases by iTunes.
Some of the music on the latter album was written when Meckler was still a student earning his master’s at the University of Minnesota. His vision and ability, following that project’s enthusiastic reception and a flood of commissions, have only expanded into the genre-bending signature that can be heard on Magnificent Madness. “Now I feel like I want to go fully in this direction of collaborative work with people from other disciplines,” Meckler says. “As an artist you’re constantly defining yourself and redefining and evaluating.”