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The Sky Cries by Chad McCullough and Michal Vanoucek

Seattle-based trumpeter and composer, Chad McCullough, teams up with Slovakian and currently The Hague-based pianist, Michal Vanoucek, as leaders for a straight-ahead jazz quintet recording of ten original compositions. McCullough, who has earned degrees from the University of Idaho and the University of Washington, has worked in the Disneyland bands, and played piano and trumpet with the Glenn Miller ghost orchestra. Others he has worked with include Wynonna Judd, Claudio Roditi and Michael W. Smith, among others. Vanoucek was born in Slovakia and studied at the Conservatory in Bratislava and the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. He served as conductor of the Charlie Haden’s orchestra at the 2003 North Sea Jazz Festival and is currently active as composer and band-leader of The Hague Ethospheric Orchestra.

They are joined by Seattle native and saxophonist Mark Taylor, bassist Dave Captein and Matt Jorgensen on drums. Taylor has worked with Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Maria Schneider and Sam Yahel. Longtime highly respected bassist Captein has worked with Mose Allison, Richie Cole, Andy Narell and Marlena Shaw, among others. Jorgensen has worked with artists like Eric Alexander, George Colligan, Bill Mays, Tim Ries and Reggie Workman.

All of the music on this disc can described as straight-down-the-middle jazz compositions, utilizing many of the harmonic conceptions utilized by modern straight-ahead jazz composers. The melodies are all pleasing and harken back to the mid-tempo mood conceptualizations played by Wayne Shorter’s Blue Note era ensembles, as well as some of Steve Swallow’s jazz quintet compositions, such as on Vanoucek’s “Tryskac Part 1.”

McCullough has a full, round tone and sparkles best on the ballads, like his own “Krasna” and Vanoucek’s “Blue In Breed.” McCullough truly understands how less can be more during his lead and solo turns on these pieces. He doesn’t let excess notes get in his way, instead focusing on making statements that have meaning as opposed to a flurry of figurations quickly forgotten.

As a pianist, Vanoucek has a delicate sense of harmony that is well displayed throughout the disc, and sounds best in accompaniment. He has a unique sense, in many ways similar to guitarist Bill Frisell, of knowing how to play just the right notes at just the right time in order to bring out the best in those he’s playing with in consort. His playing is lush, as on “Blue In Breed,” and biting on “Where The Sky Cries,” but never overdone.

Together these two artists most definitely have similar affinities for like sounding music and are two of the most well matched jazz musicians ever put together. The result is a disc that is restrained and understated, yet beautiful. Taylor’s exquisite alto sax, along with Jorgensen’s astute sense of color, especially in his cymbal work, brings this album to life. Here again is another great release from the little known but deserving of much wider recognition Origin Records.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Chad McCullough and Michal Vanoucek
  • CD Title: The Sky Cries
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2010
  • Record Label: Origin Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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