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My Hard Luck Story (and other tales of woe) by Chuck Gottesman

Imagine a master’s degree project so good that it became a commercially released CD soon thereafter. That’s what happened to Chuck Gottesman, Philadelphia-area trumpeter who wrote My Hard Luck Story (and other tales of woe).

The CD’s compositions were elements of presentation for earning Gottesman’s masters degree from Rowan University, where he studied with George Rabbai and Denis DiBlasio. Gottesman has been directing bands at Springfield High School near Philadelphia after earning his bachelor’s degree from Temple University. As a result, he has had some time to develop his thoughts about the music he wants to record and the musicians he wants to record with. In fact, the saxophonists in his sextet teach music at Philadelphia-area high schools as well.

But My Hard Luck Story (and other tales of woe) is no academic project. Far from it. Gottesman’s CD is a fully realized work that covers his entire range of interests through a variety of styles expressed by his intriguing compositions. Just as important, Gottesman reveals himself on his first recording as a versatile trumpeter, who is just as comfortable playing the rapid hard bop-like lines of "North Wind" as he is with the reassuring glow of his flugelhorn playing on "Indian Summer." An additional delight of the album is the group sound that Gottesman’s sextet achieves with its conscientious attention to dynamics, precision of articulation and harmonic cohesiveness. Fortunately, Dreambox Media appreciated the value of Gottesman’s work, and now My Hard Luck Story (and other tales of woe) is available to anyone with Internet access. Since you’re reading this review online, that "anyone" would be you.

Gottesman starts My Hard Luck Story (and other tales of woe) with, naturally, "My Hard Luck Story," a flowing, upbeat arrangement based on the changes of "Bye Bye Blackbird." From the optimistic nature of the song, the breeziness of the sextet’s solos instills listeners’ smiles, if not outright happiness. No hard luck is apparent, causing one to wonder at the story behind the name of the album. Perhaps it’s a mere case of Weltschmerz.

Well, Gottesman does include Black Sabbath’s "War Pigs," possibly as a musical raging against the "war machine." (After all, the lyrics are "In the fields the bodies burning / As the war machine keeps turning. / Politicians.... only started the war. / Why should they go out to fight? / They leave that role to the poor.") Even on this song, Gottesman converts the raw free improvisation over the initial forcefully stated chords into a hard swing, war apparently surrendering to peace, or possibly anger managed. Maybe Gottesman merely, and enjoyably, transformed "War Pigs’" music of hoped-for retribution into spirited jazz improvisation, finding inspiration in unlikely places. It seems that Gottesman, at least while he’s playing music, is incapable of rage for long. The good luck is ours for discovering a talented musician, steeped in the jazz tradition, who has developed a style of his own.

Pleasures do abound on My Hard Luck Story (and other tales of woe). There’s, for instance, Gottesman’s "Separacion," similar in changes and spirit to "Alone Together," on which the like-mindedness of the musicians is apparent as they ease in and out of harmony. Moreover, Gottesman builds his solos with a sense of architectural soundness, adding logical levels of heightening elaboration upon the basic foundation initially stated with relaxed maturity of concept. Another pleasure: being taken aback by the sweeping fast attack of "North Wind" and guessing the direction of the gust before it settled into successive solos. "Looking Glass Blues," as humorously and self-deprecatingly titled as "My Hard Luck Story," though probably just as tongue-in-cheek, allows Gottesman to groove over drummer Jim Miller’s New Orleans street beat. Still, Gottesman remains simultaneously precise, melodic and invigorating in the tradition of jazz trumpeters who preceded him. On "Stormwatch," Gottesman mutes his horn, and bassist Maeve Royce’s throbbing bass lines contrast with the horns’ restraint before they break loose with more assertive improvisations in the middle section of the inviting minor-key tune. Interestingly, Gottesman substitutes Behn Gillece’s vibraphone for the more conventional use of piano as the chorded instrument, and its glassiness and glow enhance the effect of tunes like "Lenny Blue," on which the horns play the spare melody at low volume until the bridge. In addition, Gillece’s presence is reminiscent of Bobby Hutcherson’s work on Mode for Joe as the sextet reinterprets "Caribbean Fire Dance," Gottesman, yes, blazing with a fearless, crowd-pleasing solo before a live audience.

For sentimental effect, and as a compare-and-contrast opportunity, Gottesman reprises "My Hard Luck Story" as a big-band arrangement led by none other than Rabbai in a live performance of the Rowen University Jazz Ensemble. His master’s thesis completed and his degree now bestowed, Chuck Gottesman now has the opportunity to establish himself as a dison-linetinctive voice on trumpet and an effective leader of small groups, as well as a writer of engaging compositions. Checking out his work would be a rewarding experience.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Chuck Gottesman
  • CD Title: My Hard Luck Story (and other tales of woe)
  • Genre: Various Jazz Styles
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Dreambox Media
  • Tracks: My Hard Luck Story, Indian Summer, Kriegschweine (“War Pigs”), Lenny Blue, Sideways Eyes, Stormwatch, North Wind, Separacion, Looking Glass Blues, Red Lament, Caribbean Fire Dance, My Hard Luck Story (Live, Big Band)
  • Musicians: Chuck Gottesman (trumpet, flugelhorn), Stephen Selfridge (alto saxophone), Michael Fein (tenor saxophone), Behn Gillece (vibraphone), Maeve Royce (bass), Jim Miller (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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