By John Lawrence
Singer-songwriter-trombonist Natalie Cressman brought her quintet to Dizzy’s Jazz Club Saturday, July 11. Natalie has been creating quite a stir lately with her 8th place finish in the trombone category of the Down Beat Critics poll, Rising Star division. Her band has a very contemporary sound, sort of a jazz-rock groove. And groove they did.
Natalie wrote most of the songs. I’m assuming she did the arrangements too which were fantastic. She made the most out of two horns – trumpet and trombone – and a killer rhythm section consisting of Mike Bono on guitar, Michael Mitchell on drums and Adam Goldman on bass. I particularly enjoyed the drummer although he stayed in the background the whole time. There was an energy to this band especially when they cut loose on the last number.
By my count they did 15 selections, a lot of high quality music for one set. Plenty of solo space was allotted to trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg who also did the photography for her album, Turn the Sea. The trumpet-trombone ensemble sections sounded at times like an entire brass section. Since Josh also sang, there was a lot of versatility in the arrangements which had vocal as well as instrumental duets and voice cum brass sections. I was surprised at the sophistication and attention to detail in the arrangements. Natalie sure has a lot of writing chops and the musicians were all well rehearsed and of the highest calibre.
A song called “The Unknown”, according to Natalie, was about young adults just starting out trying to find their way. Since she is in her early twenties, the song was about her real world reality although she has made great strides in just a few years. Trey Anastasio, front man of jam band behemoth Phish, called the 23 year old about five years ago with a job for her: playing trombone and singing backup in his eponymous solo group.
Born in San Francisco, Cressman attended the Manhattan School of Music in New York City where she currently resides. She comes from a musical family. Cressman’s parents are Jeff, also a trombone player, and Sandy, a jazz vocalist with a particular interest in Brazilian music. Her father is a longtime collaborator with Santana, and once played a tour behind Anastasio.
A song called “Radio Silence” showcased the precision and musicianship of the group. There was a mini set of duos with guitarest Bono. One of these, “Where We Started,” featured her beautiful voice with the lyric “I don’t want to be the prize that you always win. I wish we never started. Living brokenhearted.” Reminded me of the words from a song by the New York Voices Now That the Love is Over with the line “Why did the loving ever have to start.” Mike wrote Goodbye Lullaby, a very pretty tune.
The duos were nice, but the energy level dropped precipitously. I could have done with a couple less of these. When the band finally came back they grooved totally taking the energy level back to an exciting pitch. Mike Bono cut loose and the excellent rhythm section proved they could really cook even in a nontraditional jazz framework and without the amped out pyrotechnics of typical rock.
Called a “velveteen-voiced brass-blower” by the Denver Post, Natalie has stretched across stylistic boundaries with every project she takes on and has manifested the depth of her musicianship and versatility while blending seamlessly into so many different musical settings. Enamored with the music of Brazil, Cuba, India, along with the American jazz and folk traditions, Natalie’s wide ranging enthusiasm for new music has propelled her into a richly diverse musical career.
I bought a copy of Turn the Sea at Dizzy’s after the show, recorded in 2013, and I must say I much prefer the live performance to the album as good as it is. The energy and musicianship of the band members combined with Natalie’s arrangements give the band a contemporary jazz-rock feel while the album had more of a jazz-folk feel, ala Joni Mitchell. It was nice to see though that the album involved the band’s family members, about the best kind of collaboration a young musician could ask for.
If it weren’t for Chuck Perrin, proprietor of Dizzy’s, young aspiring musicians such as these would have no venue in San Diego. Thanks to him, San Diego still has one jazz club where they can perform and contribute to the cultural diversity without which San Diego, albeit a surfing paradise, would be a cultural backwater. These young musicians, many of whom are products of the Manhattan School of Music, Juilliard and other prestigious institutions deserve to be seen and heard. Chuck Perrin has been their host at Dizzy’s for 15 years now. For him it’s a labor of love more than anything else.