I first became aware of Nolan Shaheed as a player when he was in the 'Sweet Baby Blues Band" of Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham. The CD that I was playing for my radio audience listed him and "Snooky" Young as the trumpet players. Jeannie Cheatham nicknamed him "cat daddy."
I met him shortly thereafter playing in the band of Al Williams' "Jazz Society." I was immediately struck by the dexterity he displayed in playing the trumpet. Over the years I've been privileged to be in attendance where he played in big bands and small combos, as well as, backing singers and he has always swung like crazy.
In all the years I've known him, dating back to the early nineties, I've never seen him lead a band like the one on this recording. And yet, he has been engineering and recording other bands mixing and composing as well for other people who rave at his abilities.
And now a work of art that he can call his own. Nolan has crafted a delightful collection of original songs that, to me, evoke the memory of the masters during the old Blue Note days of Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Booker Little, etcetera. All of the players on this effort are from in and around the Los Angeles area and are as fine a group of old and young professional as you'll ever find. They are leaders in their own right and are all veterans of the recording studio. It sounds as if they've been playing together as a unit for sometime. It's a tribute to the leader who has honed this aggregation to a fine edge.
The first of six compositions on this album, it must be noted, that it is eerily reminiscent of Lee Morgan's "Search for the New Land." Indeed, Lamentation from the Middle Passage is a potent reminder of the power of song to resurrect memories of how songs were composed during a time when jazz was enjoying immense popularity in the 60's. Nolan's trumpet work is exceptional, and the alto saxophone of Zane Musa stands tall against a backdrop of solid rhythm laid down by guitarist Ronald Muldrow, pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Trevor Ware and drummer Quentin Dennard.
Al-Kabulan features drummer Tony More, who replaces Quentin, and immediately makes his presence known with a wonderful intro to a song that is definitely up-tempo hard bop, the likes of which I welcome. Ronald Muldrow's solo is, as always, wonderful to hear. The subsequent improvisational forays by Nolan and Danny serve as a tasteful handoff for Zane to carry into the final episode of the tune.
I find Just Another Day like a breath of fresh air. The kind you inhale deep into your lungs on a spring day after the rain. Bass players change as Dell Atkins replaces Trevor on this spirited romp through the musical meadows and babbling brooks of the minds eye of jazz.
Pianist Bobby Pierce and bassist John Heard aptly introduce Burnin' Rhythm Changes as only they can. Ronald Muldrow chimes in to enhance the groundwork for the horn players to build on. Their construct is the epitome of improvisation and group dynamics. Quentin continues to set and define the pace then simply closes the door to conclude a worthy performance.
It's Magic is magic in its approach and context. The decision to spotlight Trevor's bass work in the beginning is a master stroke by the leader to get players who do certain things well to place them in that circumstance and exploit it to the benefit of the listener. Ronald Muldrow plays the guitar with so much passion and verve. Surely his inspirations, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, and Joe Pass are smiling down on him. Nolan and Zane give a beautiful and subtle call and response throughout this fine example of a jazz waltz that gently caresses the ear and soul.
The session ends with John Heard's bass intro to the Swingin' Blues. Swing it does, the blues it is. Bobby Pierce is again the pianist who lays it down superbly for Nolan and Zane to make the case for the majesty of the blues. Ronald's work is swinging in the purest sense of the meaning. Then there's Bobby again emerging to lend class and style to the piece, which is but another vehicle for Quentin to drive, almost effortlessly to fine and mellow conclusion.
This project will be getting lots of airplay from me and my colleagues in jazz radio because this collection of songs is done right. It is my expressed hope that you enjoy the music as much as I do.
James Janisse - Program Host
Radio Station - KKJZ - 88.1 - Long Beach, CA