MUSIC Reviews


MORGAN GUERIN - THE SAGA

September 2,2016/Carl Anthony - Notorious Jazz
 

There is a reason for cover art. It speaks in silence for the artist. Thus, the listener should take a moment to immerse him/herself to visually understand the message the artist is attempting to convey. What I found in the artwork was a mini story of the instrumental journey from boyhood to arrive with a full arsenal by manhood. I realized I was viewing the preface of what was to come. Aptly titled The Saga, I knew a journey had taken place to get to this point as I inserted the disc into my computer. What I heard was an unexpected voice of a young man who had traveled far beyond his musical prowess. I was immediately reminded of Herman Hesse and Siddhartha’s sojourn, who left home to discover life through the lens of the world, only to return with greater self-awareness and peace.

To say he is a compelling storyteller falls short of the message his music delivers. He is a messenger, come from a long line of griots who has given voice to a generation that unwillingly is forced to take the baton as have generations before him. From deep in the Louisiana culture you will hear the Second Line and rhythm and blues influences in his music. The very first drumbeat of Parallel sets the tone for his acknowledgement of the turbulent ecological and racial times the country is in. I am hearing the protest songs of the Sixties expressed in a rap delivered by Dashill Smith.

Blueprint delivers another message and eases us into a zone where discomfort is our journey foretelling, through the voice of Allana Hudson, the lies to humanity that contradict our ancestor’s wisdom. A fusion of sound that is ethereal beckons us forward in Tabula Rasa, reminiscent of Mahavishnu, Santana, Zawinul and Return to Forever. Beginning with an Eastern calling and announcement of something majestic approaching, it builds to a cacophonous revelry in the spirit. It’s like witnessing something for the very first time that takes your breathone away or gives you pause. That tingly feeling of excitement that leaves you fulfilled for that brief moment in time. In The Saga is the journey of ups and downs, loves and loss, in the varied experiences that greet us along the way. 

In Madeira there is settledness I hear when one finds a space that is easy and comfortable. This is where solace resides With A Peace Of Mind that remains constant throughout our lives if we only allow it. Sharynwood Drive is my return home with all that has been discovered and learned; to be passed on to a new generation of explorers. 

The Saga is a simple story told through the complexities of the music. The voices used to tell his story vary in emotion but the message is consistent. Listen carefully and you will see he has taken on a journey through the history of jazz, incorporating his youthful sensibilities within the standard language of jazz. One can feel the pulse of the music and there is beauty in the nuances throughout with the able assistance of his 11 accomplices. This was my musical journey with this young man of infinite wisdom, yet to be fully unleashed upon the world. 

For those legions of jazz enthusiasts following the music trends, we await patiently for each decade to spew forth those chosen few who will humbly add their talent to the lexicon of the music. We guard the bastion for the rise of the exceptional to step forth onto the global stage. To our delight, our stalwart diligence has revealed just such a young man from amongst his peers. Hailing out of the birthplace of jazz, the name is familiar to us. It is Guerin… Morgan Guerin.


MORGAN GUERIN - THE SAGA

June 2016/Phil Freeman - Burning Ambulance

Morgan Guerin is one of the most talented young musicians on the current jazz scene. Originally from New Orleans, he’s currently based in Atlanta. He plays alto and tenor saxophones, flute, EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), trumpet, guitar, piano, Fender Rhodes, organ, synth bass, drums, and percussion. He’s performed multiple times at the Atlanta Jazz Festival, attended Berklee, and was a member of the house band at the 2016 Grammy Awards. He released his debut album, The Saga, in April. (Get it on Bandcamp.)

Though its title may recall Kamasi Washington‘s The Epic, this is no three-disc slab of retro-minded spiritual jazz. It’s a concise, melodic disc, packing eight tracks into just 43 minutes. While Guerin plays the majority of the instruments himself, including multiple overdubbed horns, keyboards, and drums, there are several guests present. None of them are famous (yet), but their contributions are worth noting. Patrick Arthur plays electric guitar on all but two tracks, and acoustic on one more; Brandon Boone plays electric bass on two tracks and upright on three others, while Roland Guerin and Paul Johnson also contribute electric bass to one track each; Julius Rodriguez guests on organ, Grace Sommer on cello, Curtis Olawumion flugelhorn and Danny Wytamis on trombone. Four tracks feature vocals: Dashill Smithraps on the opening “Parallel,” there’s a spoken word interlude by Allana Hudson on “Blueprint,” and Risa Pearl sings on the two-part “With a Peace of Mind.”

The music sits in a weird zone of its own making, somewhere between soul, fusion, and progressive rock. At times, it can be hard to tell what instrument Guerin is using to generate his long, winding solos, which only makes the whole thing more interesting. The title piece features an extended interlude of scat singing through what could be a vocoder, or the EWI, but that yields to a more traditional synth solo, and then a straightforward tenor sax excursion, with string patches behind him giving it the feel of something Stanley Turrentine might have recorded for CTI in the early 1970s. Guerin’s drumming is as solid as his lead work is expansive; he plays grooves that swing, but feel informed by rock as well. “Madeira” is a lush post-bop mood piece that wouldn’t be out of place on almost any modern jazz album; the piano and Fender Rhodes (and drums) are ably bolstered by Boone’s bass, as Guerin takes an exploratory tenor sax solo that maintains the smooth feel he’s clearly happiest with, but takes the occasional step outside.

The two-part “With a Peace of Mind” runs nearly nine minutes; it starts with a two-minute introduction, Pearl crooning wordlessly over piano. As the rhythm section (with Boone on upright bass again) comes in for the second half, Arthur adds a slow-burning lead guitar line, which eventually becomes an exchange between himself and Guerin’s piano. In the deep background, at the quietest moments, a soft sci-fi pulse from some kind of synth can be heard.

Morgan Guerin‘s music is remarkable not only for its stylistic breadth—this album jumps from squiggly ’70s fusion to acoustic balladry, and makes room for rap and poetry along the way—but for the organic feel it maintains despite being largely created via overdubbing. He jumps from keyboards to drums to reed instruments, layering it all in a dense but still breathable manner, leaves room for guests to make their voices heard, and somehow makes it sound like a real live band working it out in a room. The Saga is an impressive achievement indeed.


Jazz Phenom Morgan Guerin Debuts "The Saga" at The Velvet Note

April 25, 2016/Ralph A. Miriello - Notes on Jazz

Guerin explained to the crowd of interested cognoscenti that he had spent a majority of his youth living and absorbing the music scene in New Orleans, where his father Roland Guerin is an active professional bass player. A few years ago Morgan  found himself uprooted by the divorce of his parents. He was relocated to live with his mother, attorney Brianna Williams, to a new home in Atlanta. The traumatic experience became the source of much anxiety for the young Guerin, but like all artists he turned this trauma into the germ of inspiration. The experience was filled with apprehension and doubt. In New Orleans Guerin was surrounded by jazz luminaries that he came to know personally through his father’s professional and social associations. The Marsalis family, saxophonist Donald Harrison and trumpeter Christian Scott were all friends of the family and the young Guerin saw his father play with guitarist Mark Whitfield and pianists Marcus Roberts and Allen Toussaint among others.This rich cultural experience was the nurturing environment that encouraged Guerin to pursue his ultimate career choice to be a musician. It was a bit of a culture shock for the young man to come to Atlanta and see that jazz wasn’t the main focus of the music scene here. A variety of musical genres that seem to flourish in this city. hip hop, neo soul, techno dance and R and B were all part of the music scene and Guerin started to question whether there was a place for the music he loved, jazz, in Atlanta. He even found himself questioning the pursuit of his music, at times even considering a more traditional career path. Fortunately his love of the music prevailed and where there is such abundant talent, there is always an audience. It didn’t take long for the young man to find his way into the hearts and minds of the jazz community in Atlanta.  

He continued advancing his musical education by attending prestigious jazz camps like the Vail Jazz Workshop, the summer jazz programs at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston and summer programs at the New School in New Orleans and he told me he plans to continue his studies after he graduates from high school this year at the  New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in NYC.. He was selected to be part of the Grammy Band that was featured week long at the 58th annual Grammy Awards presentations this past February. All the while the deeply introspective Guerin was composing and shedding, using all the beauty and angst that was part of his life and transforming it into complex compositions that he felt were representative of what he had experienced from his earliest memories to his current state of mind. The result is his debut album The Saga, a long, detailed, series of stories which we were there to hear for the first time that evening.

To appreciate the talent that this young artist has, one has to recognize the magnitude of the accomplishment that this album represents. Guerin is a multi-instrumentalist. On The Saga he plays the drums, percussion, the piano and Fender Rhodes, both alto and tenor saxophones, the Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI), Moog bass, organ, flute and Vocoder. If that weren’t enough he also wrote all the songs and arranged and recorded them in his own home studio!  And let’s not forget the young man is just seventeen! The closest comparison to such a multi-talented young musician is the British phenom Jacob Collier who is now nineteen and studies jazz piano at the Royal Academy. The main difference between these two, is that while they both play multiple instruments and are adept at electronics, Collier also sings and harmonizes with himself on multiple levels. However Guerin writes and arranges his own music while Collier mostly re-arranges popular songs by other people. 

As Morgan states in the liner notes all the songs are “… the result of hard work and meditation.” Hard work and extraordinary dedication has certainly paid off for Guerin as his compositions range from the opening hip-hop inspired “Parallel” with its electronic, funk driven vibe and featuring the rap vocal of Dashill Smith to the more cosmic “Blueprint” with Guerin’s probing saxophone and EWI work and a spoken poem by Allana Hudson at the coda.

“Tabula Rasa” is, by Guerin’s own admission, an aggressive, pleading cry for clarity as he was trying to reconcile leaving his beloved New Orleans and finding his way in his adopted city of Atlanta.  The song rises to what I perceive is a joyful, albeit energized ascension to acceptance. The music skillfully integrates electronic sounds and effects with more traditional instrumentation and Guerin has been able to get fellow students to seamlessly participate in the creative process while never actually being present in the same location. Patrick Arthur’s electric and acoustic guitar work and Brandon Boone on electric and upright bass are the two fellow musician whose work is heard throughout the album. Jules Rodriguez on organ and Paul “Papabear” Johnson on bass are heard on “Parallel.” On the beautiful “Sharynwood Drive,” a reference to his home in New Orleans, there is a bittersweet opening to the composition that features an achingly touching cello solo by Grace Sommer. Ultimately the music has a nostalgic tone, a place that Guerin identifies to this day as a happy place filled with good memories. Curtis Olawumi on flugelhorn, Daniel Wytanis on trombone and a touching electric bass solo by his father Roland Guerin lead the music to a place where it elevates to a joyous declaration played by Guerin on tenor.

Guerin’s memories of  another New Orleans location of importance to his development, is also represented joyfully by the uplifting, “Madeira”, a reference to the street name of his grandmother's home, where he had childhood memories of music filling the air. His tenor playing bursts with excited enthusiasm as the repeating rhythm he creates sweeps you up in an ever ascending swirl of elation.

The two-part suite “With a Peace of Mind” part 1 and 2 Guerin plays the melody on piano synchronously with Risa Pearl’s lilting voice and at times with Arthur’s electric guitar. The effect is quite tranquil and Guerin’s drums are ever present, accenting the breaks and coloring the lines in between.

The title song “Saga” is a floating composition where Gurein uses the Vocoder. He said it was inspired by some of Herbie Hancock’s work on the album Sunlight.  The song has elements of Lonnie Liston Smith’s celestially inspired work with the EWI and vocoder leading the way over the swelling synthesized melodies. Guerin’s tenor solo is fluid and sensuous as it climbs to ever higher peaks and the composition escalates to a cosmic end.

When speaking to Guerin at the club, he was totally engaging. it was interesting to hear some of this young man’s eclectic influences, like ethereal guitarist Pat Metheny, saxophonists, like the taciturn Mark Turner, the iconoclastic Jerry Bergonzi and the audacious Michael Brecker. He is also influenced by the young lions- upcoming saxophonists who now dominate the modern scene- like Seamus Blake, Donny McCaslin and Ben Wendel. I suspect with continued work and diligence, in the not too distant future, Morgan Guerin will join the ranks of these young lions of jazz.  He is certainly someone to keep your eye on and an artist who deserves our encouragement and support.