This disc, containing the multi-movement piece entitled, The Romanian-American Jazz Suite, was written by Sam Newsome & Lucian Ban. Saxophonist Newsome is originally from Maryland. After graduating from the Berklee College of Music he immediately joined jazz legend Donald Byrd’s band, but it was Newsome’s work with Terence Blanchard that brought him to the forefront of jazz aficionados. Romanian pianist Lucian Ban studied at the Bucharest Music Academy before moving to New York in 1999 to study at the New School. He’s since worked with a number of the up-and-coming New York artists.
This disc aims to combine Romanian folk music with American jazz and the suite was written to represent the perspective of both an American jazz musician exploring Romanian folk music, and a Romanian jazz musician reinvestigating the music of his country after having lived in America for several years. The melodies are definitely of Romanian origin; whether they be newly composed from folk inspiration or taken directly from source material isn’t important, they are indicative of the European region.
Harmonically the emphasis is most certainly on standard jazz as practiced and taught in universities in the United States. Together the combination of the two idioms works well together. Joining Newsome and Ban are Alex Harding playing some real funky bari sax and bass clarinet, Willard Dyson on drums, Sorin Romanescu on guitar and bassist Arthur Balogh.
The music, which one might think would not work, actually is rather lovely. "Carol" is a sweet ballad, "Danube Stroll" is a funky little number in four, "Colinda" has a lilting beat within it’s rather austere harmonic framework, and the duet from the two leaders, "Where Is Home?" is poignant and touching.
Newsome is, plain and simple, a road tested veteran who knows the best performances always put the music first. In this he makes sure he derives all of his lines from the musical concept and not from some incessant need to insert himself on top of the band. His playing is dreamy when it needs to be and hot when the band is cooking. Lucian has a light touch that serves this music well. His voicings, while standard, are perfectly suited to the compositions and give Newsome and the other bandmates plenty of room to roam.
Alex Harding is funky woodwind specialist, Romanescu knows how to bring himself forward when needed and stay out of the way when not, and Balogh is a solid time keeper and, at times, good contrapuntalist. This very surprising disc shows cultures can mix, and in the case of these two, especially well.