Jazz is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of a bassoon (or vice versa), however during the past 40 years Michael Rabinowitz has shown that it can recognised as a viable jazz instrument, when played by the right person. He has performed a wide variety of jazz through the years on the double reed woodwind with the fluidity and creativity of a saxophonist.
Proof of his expertise, and the virtuosity that Rabinowitz displays on the bassoon can be heard throughout his seventh release as a leader, Next Chapter. With the easing of the restrictions imposed by COVID, he performed some of his new compositions at Django in New York City with a quartet comprised of Matt King on piano and melodica, bassist Andy McKee, and drummer Tommy Campbell. The results were so rewarding that the quartet soon recorded Next Chapter which is comprised of six of the bassoonist’s originals and two songs by King.
Next Chapter begins with “Lydian Dream” which starts off as a dreamy ballad before becoming a playful swing piece. In each chorus, “Minor Blues Experiment” alternates between being an up-tempo minor blues, a slower jam, and a jazz waltz. The musicians somehow make the transitions and constant changes sound effortless and logical. “Next Chapter” is an optimistic ballad that features some thoughtful bassoon playing. King’s “MRab” (named after Rabinowitz) is a loose medium-tempo blues that has sly humour and plenty of adventurous moments. “Twelve Note Samba” is Matt King’s take on Jobim’s “One Note Samba.” This is one of several pieces where he displays his ability to play piano and melodica at the same time. “Emily Alt Line” utilizes the chord changes of Johnny Mandel’s “Emily” but with a completely different melody while “One Four All” is based on the jazz standard “Four.” The varied program concludes with “Tuesday Blues,” a stretched-out piece that is reminiscent of Charles Mingus. It is highlighted by some soulful bassoon and an impressive bass solo.
Although he was not the first jazz musician to play bassoon (Garvin Bushell and Frank Trumbauer took some recorded solos in the 1920s and Illinois Jacquet and Yusef Lateef were among those who occasionally played it in the 1950s and 60s), Michael Rabinowitz is believed to be the first to specialize on the instrument, switching from clarinet while in high school. He made his recording debut with Ira Sullivan in 1981, moved to New York five years later, and has since worked with the Charles Mingus Orchestra (as a founding member), Dave Douglas (in the Mosaic Sextet), Red Rodney, Joe Lovano, Anthony Braxton, Wynton Marsalis, Chris Potter, Ryan Truesdell, Elvis Costello and many others in addition to heading his own groups. The masterful bassoonist has previously recorded six albums as a leader: Bassoon On Fire, Gabrielle’s Balloon, Bassoon In Orbit, Ocean Eyes, Play, and Uncharted Waters.
With the release of the swinging and enjoyable Next Chapter, Michael Rabinowitz continues to show that the bassoon is very much a jazz instrument and that he is the leader in his field. It is released on Blue Ridge Bassoon Records on March 1st and will be featured on World of Jazz on February 26th.