Composer/arranger, Dave Lisik can always be relied upon to put together colorful, unpredictable and creative jazz projects. The music on Machaut Man and a Superman Hat is no exception, featuring a world-class quintet interpreting seven of his originals along with an unusual version of “Georgia On My Mind.”
A little background is in order for those who might not be familiar with Dave’s history. Born in Canada, he earned a Master of Music degree in Jazz Pedagogy from the University of Northern Iowa in 1998. After working as Director of Bands at Murdoch MacKay Collegiate in Winnipeg, Canada during 1998-2003 (which included recording three CDs and collecting quite a few awards), he earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Composition with a Jazz Emphasis at the University of Memphis, where he taught and directed jazz ensembles. He worked as Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, where he created the LeMoyne-Owen Records label and the African Drumming Ensemble.
Lisik now lives in New Zealand, where he works at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington (teaching jazz composition, arranging, theory and pedagogy), co-directs the New Zealand Youth Jazz Orchestra, founded and produces the NZSM Jazz Festival, and is a trustee of the New Zealand Jazz Foundation. In addition, he has worked as a trumpeter (playing with big bands, his own quintet, and symphony orchestras) and he has written over 400 works.
It has made for quite a busy life, which fortunately includes a regular series of recordings. For Machaut Man and a Superman Hat, Lisik was able to utilize trumpeter Alex Sipiagin’s quintet. “When players of this caliber are willing to share their amazing musicality, it is quite a remarkable experience,” says Lisik. “Alex Sipiagin came to the first New Zealand School of Music Jazz Festival as a guest artist in 2011 and we have worked together numerous times since then.” A superb trumpeter, Sipiagin has recorded with Lisik on his jazz orchestra suite Walkabout – A Place For Visions and on two other projects that will be released in the near future: an electroacoustic album with Seamus Blake (Students In Exile) and a set with a jazz orchestra (Origin Of Species).
“Donny McCaslin was a featured soloist on my first jazz orchestra recording project, Coming Through Slaughter - The Bolden Legend. He is one of my absolute favorite musicians, and is beautiful to listen to. Dave Kikoski, Boris Kozlov and Donald Edwards are all regular players in the rhythm section of the Mingus Big Band, and in Alex's quintet with Seamus Blake, Opus 5. These are some of the best jazz musicians anywhere. They know each other very well, play together all of the time, and have a real group thing happening.”
Although Lisik’s music is consistently challenging, the five musicians sound relaxed and effortless throughout this set, coming up with interpretations that clearly pleased the composer. The music is as colorful and offbeat as the song titles.
“Steal Bryan’s Laptop” serves as an excellent introduction to the quintet with lengthy and passionate solos by Sipiagin, McCaslin and Kikoski, and tight work by the rhythm section that often seems to think as one. Its unusual title refers to hypothetical pranks that Lisik and members of his college faculty fantasized about playing on the representative from Bryan College. “When a particular Memphis college was facing imminent bankruptcy, other colleges and universities were invited to participate in a recruiting fair of sorts to give students other study options once their dying college was closed. I was with a few colleagues representing my school, and we were set up directly across from the lone, male representative of the small religious, Bryan College. It seemed logical to us that Bryan himself was likely manning the recruiting table. Over the course of a long day, in order to pass the time, we came up with jokes to play on “Bryan” including sabotaging his chair in various ways, having him continuously paged to the central office, slipping something into his beverage and … stealing his computer.”
“Hooptie on the 405” has a melody that recalls early Ornette Coleman. This performance, one of the strongest on the CD, includes a fine solo by Kikoski, a hard-swinging improvisation from Sipiagin, and some raging tenor by McCaslin.
“Au Chien Qui Fume,” named after a Paris restaurant, is a sensitive ballad with a melody in two different keys. McCaslin’s soprano playing, which displays his original voice, is lyrical and beautiful.
“The Disgruntled Plagiarist” has a funky feel reminiscent of Herbie Hancock in the 1960s, warm statements from flugelhorn, tenor and piano, and a prominent role for drummer Donald Edwards. As for its title, Lisik says, “it is either about the moment when a college student realizes that the internet contains a vast amount of information that can easily be copied and pasted into a research document, when a deadline is looming, or the moment, after the paper has been handed in, that the student realizes that finding the plagiarized content is even easier for the person grading the paper than it was to copy and paste it in the first place.”
The up and down scalar piece (and Rolling Stones tribute) “Wet Chihuahua” is catchy, features some powerful trumpet and heated tenor, and has exciting interplay by the two horns at its conclusion.
The menacing strut “Machaut Man and a Superman Hat” has some fairly free ensemble playing, a tempo that accelerates gradually a la Charles Mingus, and plenty of dramatic moments. “Guillaume de Machaut was a French poet and composer of the 1300s who was the subject of one of the hits of the disco era Village People.”
Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind” was drastically re-harmonized for this version, and the results sound like a brand new song. The final track of this continually fascinating program is “Katafuzees”, a Lisik original based on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” The two horns battle it out for a time before the rhythm section eventually joins in. The piano, bass and drums solos are outstanding, bringing this set to a fiery end.
Dave Lisik may be a significant educator in New Zealand but, as this and his previous CDs show, he is obviously a major composer with an original style and conception of his own. All of his recordings are well worth exploring and savoring.
Scott Yanow is the author of 11 books including The Great Jazz Guitarists, The Jazz Singers, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76.
1. Steal Bryan's Laptop 09:52
2. Machaut Man and a Superman Hat 06:50
3. Au Chien Qui Fume 07:27
4. (You Can't Always Get a) Wet Chihuahua 09:42
5. Hooptie on the 405 08:21
6. Georgia On My Mind 11:59
7. The Disgruntled Plagiarist 07:05
8. Katafuzees (Giant Steps) 07:14
Alex Sipiagin (trumpet and flugelhorn)
Donny McCaslin (tenor and soprano saxophones)
Dave Kikoski (acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes)
Boris Kozlov (bass)
Donald Edwards (drums)