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Yasushi Nakamura Featured in Rudy Royston Trio’s “Rise of Orion”

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Yasushi Nakamura Featured in Rudy Royston Trio’s “Rise of Orion”


Drummer/Composer Rudy Royston to release new recording “Rise of Orion” from Greenleaf Music, featuring bassist Yasushi Nakamura

For more than two decades since he arrived on the jazz scene, Rudy Royston has built his reputation as a first-call drummer, working with such giants of the music as Bill Frisell, JD Allen, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Ravi Coltrane, Branford Marsalis and Dave Douglas.

Critics have raved about his talent, with Nate Chinen of The New York Times calling Royston a “first-tier talent” and JazzTimes writing that Royston “demonstrates an incredible sense of dynamics…from his quiet, textural playing…to the combustive velocity.”

Then, two years ago, Royston upped his game, releasing his debut as a leader, 303— named for the area code of his hometown of Denver, Colorado—on Dave Douglas’ Greenleaf Records. Just as he’d been doing all along as a sideman, Royston moved the music forward, albeit this time following his own vision. Utilizing drums, two basses, two horns, guitar and piano, Royston created a propulsive display that again invited plaudits. Downbeat called the album “an ambitious and infectious debut,” All About Jazz praised its “panoramic construct” and remarked that it was “an auspicious debut.”

Now Royston is back with his sophomore effort as a leader, and once again he’s broken new ground. Rise of Orion (Greenleaf, November 18) is a remarkable excursion through a panoply of moods, sounds, sensations and textures. Where 303 explored the larger format of a septet, for Rise of Orion Royston chose to consolidate and concentrate, performing with a trio composed of the heralded Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition winner Jon Irabagon and Yasushi Nakamura on bass.

Says Royston, “I chose Yasushi Nakamura and Jon Irabagon for this project because of their understanding and style expressing music, their interpretations of emotional and human qualities. In this music, Yasushi and Jon are bold, groovy, adventuresome and aggressive players. Whether expressing that style in gentle or robust ways, this trio is always candid and audacious.”

Rise of Orion features 13 exploratory pieces allowing each trio member complete and unfettered expression: 11 original compositions, plus interpretations of R&B great Bill Withers’ “Make a Smile for Me” and Henry Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament.” Throughout, the consistently charged interplay between the three virtuosic, intuitive players is deep and locked in; there’s a single-mindedness at work even as they maintain uncompromising individuality. All three contribute wholly and unfailingly to the totality of the result.

The trio, says Royston, “is designed to address events within, the dimension of activity just beneath our exterior facade. The music speaks to our humanness, our emotions, small qualities inside the milieu of the larger picture. The compositions themselves are written and named so to pay tribute to indwelling qualities that are innate to us as human beings.”

On paper, one might wonder what these musicians might even have to say to one another—their backgrounds are so diverse it would appear that finding a commonality would be difficult. In practice, it becomes patently obvious as soon as they open up. Royston, born in Texas and raised in Denver, began studying drums and percussion formally in high school, joined up with the highly regarded trumpeter Ron Miles while in college and turned pro after graduation, playing rock and gospel music as well as jazz. He taught for a decade before relocating to New York in 2006, where his list of sideman credentials quickly swelled. His ability to slip easily into any situation—from big band to the most extreme free jazz—and elevate it brought him acclaim from fellow musicians and jazz aficionados.

Irabagon has been a major and constant presence on the progressive New York jazz scene, as a core member of Mostly Other People Do the Killing and working alongside guitarist Mary Halvorson, Dave Douglas and others, while also leading his own groups. And Nakamura, a Tokyo native with degrees from the Berklee College of Music and Juilliard, has been heard in the company of everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Hank Jones and Frank Kimbrough; he is an exceptionally inventive player who serves as the grounding in the Rudy Royston Trio even while stretching far beyond conventional boundaries.

Listening to Rise of Orion unfold over the course of its 13 tracks, it’s easy to get lost in its grooves, in the musicians’ choices, in the originality and seductiveness of it all. But more than anything, the creations of the Rudy Royston Trio here are about possibilities, suggestions of endless variation; there’s a focused sense that the paths taken here only scratch the surface. Each new play unveils boundless newness. That’s really all you could ask from any music.

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