August in March
Brooklyn-based trio Ember discovers profound meaning and vibrant interplay in the collective music of August in March
Due out August 11, 2023 via Orrin Evans’ Imani Records imprint, the adventurous trio features saxophonist/trumpeter Caleb Wheeler Curtis, bassist Noah Garabedian and drummer Vincent Sperrazza
“The individual approaches to modern melodic improvisation within the collective memory of the musicians so easily rise to the surface... The union of the three is in many ways emblematic of the jazz scene growing in Brooklyn that often crosses lines of genre in joyous and innovative ways.”
– Paul Rauch, All About Jazz
“The group’s collective improvisational spirit is effortless.”
– Veronica Johnson, JazzTimes
The meaning of August in March, the title of the third album from the Brooklyn-based collective trio Ember, doesn’t allow for easy interpretation. Is it a lament over the accelerating pace of modern life? A protest against climate change? Simply a bit of lyrical wordplay, or an intentionally obscure puzzle? It could be any of those things, or all at once – Ember isn’t telling. But the mere fact that the phrase is so evocative and open-ended, an invitation to creative examination, may be more to the point. Those are, after all, among the guiding principles of this adventurous and exploratory trio.
“I think that August in March is sort of confusing but at the same time oddly poetic,” ventures saxophonist and trumpeter player Caleb Wheeler Curtis. “It connects in multiple ways to things that we care about.”
Due out August 11, 2023, via Orrin Evans’ Imani Records imprint, August in March itself is a vivid representation of the musical, interpersonal and community-oriented ideas that the three forward-thinking musicians that make up Ember – Curtis, bassist Noah Garabedian and drummer Vincent Sperrazza – care deeply about. As Garabedian says, “This record is the most honest representation of who we are. We've always been heading in the direction of this kind of simplicity and exploration, but compositionally this is the clearest expression of who we want to be as a band.”
Sperrazza continues, “What energizes us is the sense that we're part of a much wider moment, connected to a lot of our peers while standing on the shoulders of our mentors and inspirations.” Curtis picks up the idea, saying, “If you can call three people a community, we're trying to create this open environment where the music is shared between us and then shared with whoever's hearing it. August in March is a continuation of that journey.”
Ember’s journey began directly through the members’ participation in that wider community of creative musicians. Sperrazza and Garabedian met at a session hosted by trombonist Jacob Garchik and bonded over a shared love of a wide spectrum of jazz styles, from the traditional to the avant-garde. The drummer recalls his first encounter with Curtis, when the saxophonist called Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellotone” at a jam session. All three became fast friends and eager collaborators, leading to the recording of New Year in 2018, released under their individual names. They’d become the collective Ember by 2021, when they invited Orrin Evans to join them for their follow-up, No One Is Any One.
In regards to Ember, “collective” has a far deeper meaning than just a co-led band where all three members contribute tunes. The music on August in March in particular seems like an object that can be looked at from any angle, any perspective, and still feel complete. The album’s eleven concise but intricate pieces defy attempts to pinpoint a leader or a soloist, instead feeling at all times like a vibrantly cooperative effort.
“Most of the process of playing together is listening to each other, allowing each other to do what we do and finding a way to fit into that,” Curtis explains. “Most of our rehearsals are spent talking and catching up and getting to know each other personally. The playing is just a continuation of that.”
That communal spirit yields an environment where all three feel comfortable taking risks. Always known as an alto saxophonist, on August in March Curtis plays the stritch (straight alto), trumpet and reed trumpet for the first time. While Garabedian and Sperrazza stick with bass and drums on the album, they’ve both been known to venture into percussion or vocals in live settings, which have also proved amenable to a number of guests open to diving into the deep end with them. Garabedian also experimented with new compositional forms on the album, including the arco-focused title track and the deceptively complex, through-composed “Easy Win,” along with the slithering, stealthy “Snake Tune.”
“This band is a space that allows and encourages me to move forward in different directions and try new things,” Garabedian says. “In terms of vulnerability and growth, I'm certainly exploring new ways to play the bass and interact musically.”
The trio’s empathetic bonds shine through on “No Signal,” a delicate free improvisation that leads into “Easy Win,” maintaining a balance between the spontaneous and the composed that can also be found within their individual pieces. Curtis contributes four: the airy, slowly unfurling opener, “Suspense;” the bop fragment “Sink and Swim;” “Flotation Device and the Shivers,” which sustains its taut tension through on a relentless bass pulse; and the jabbing blues “Break Tune.”
Sperrazza’s trio of pieces include the backbeat groove of “Frank in the Morning,” the labyrinthine “Angular Saxon” (the pun borrowed from Errol Garner, the serrated feel from Tim Berne), and the soulful, aptly-named “Sam Cooke.” Beyond simply being a tribute to one of the greatest R&B singers, the latter is also another mission statement for the trio.
“Sam Cooke is someone that hardcore music fanatics get really excited about,” Sperrazza explains, “but you'll also hear one of his songs at a wedding in suburban New Jersey. Not a lot of people so naturally occupy both those zones, and that's important to us. If it's good, it's for everybody.”