MANIC MOMENTS - liner notes by Jim Santella …
Gary Brunotte is a down-to-earth kind of guy who likes to groove with his music in the spirit of what moves us. Art and popular music combine on his palette to create a collage that represents tradition as thoroughly as it does today and tomorrow. With his ensemble, he drives fiercely in places and simmers gently in others. Lyricism and a sincere love for beautiful melody weave their threads through his sessions; each performance comes with much variety.
Influenced by a wide array of jazz and popular music that includes the guitar/organ combos that we’ve all grown up with, as well as memories such as Brasil ’66 and Blood, Sweat & Tears, Gary captures a soulful essence in his contemporary adventures. He infuses each program with updated standards as well as highly original works that tell a story.
Born and raised in a small town in Minnesota, Gary learned to play the accordion at a very young age and switched to organ as a teenager since it fit the rock band format so well. After college, he moved to piano while attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Gary taught there for three years. While gigging in New York with his piano trio and big band, he picked up valuable experience that shows up on his recordings.
Gary is a serious composer who forms impressions that shift their moods in suite-like fashion. Each piece tells a story. After winning a National Endowment for the Arts grant in New York, his big band performed his suite with a personal zeal. Weekly sessions led to a camaraderie that Gary regards as essential in all of his endeavors.
Manic Moments is Gary’s 4th album. His first, Yesterday’s Dream, featured a quintet with Eric Marienthal, while Conversations was a duo album and Smile featured a trio format.
Drummer Bill Berg, who provides the foundation for Manic Moments, has worked with Gary on two those previous albums. Bill gives Manic Moments its drive. He was the drummer with Flim and the BB’s, a great contemporary jazz band out of Los Angeles that made quite a splash in past decades. The BBs in the band were Bill Berg and keyboardist Billy Barber. Gary’s guitarist for Manic Moments is Scott Sawyer, who blends a jazz organ/guitar combo texture into the program with an agile hand. Both Scott and Bill color eloquently from the back with a strong rhythmic foundation, while taking turns in the spotlight to create magic moments.
The general spirit of the album turns on its varied impressions. Gary plays organ on 9 tracks, piano on 2, and adds accordion to two of those. He’s equally at home with modern Brazilian jazz, modern mainstream, and the blues. As the album opens with “Mas Que Nada,” you can feel the light organ combo texture washing up against the ocean’s shore. Scott’s guitar and Bill’s drum set complement Gary’s storytelling nature on this one as he paints a familiar landscape. “Manic Moments” switches gears as Gary adds a horn section and electric bass to the mix, pulsating with leading-edge anxiety. Glen Ingram’s sultry tenor solo builds a fire deep inside, as the piece lets tradition mix with complex harmonies for an exciting adventure.
“Agua de Beber” returns to Brazil with Jobim’s love anthem about needs and desires. The trio makes this one tingle with reflections that are meant for romantic moods. As a storyteller, Gary keeps romantic love in his program as a vital part.
“You and the Night and the Music” features Gary’s piano trio, with Bill on drums and John Simonetti on double bass, doing what comes naturally. As an eloquent statement for a tried and true story, this one features solos from John and Bill as well. Later in the program, Gary uses the same format for his original, “Sometime,” but he adds a heartfelt accordion presence to this waltz that brings tears to the eyes. The story here is one of hope; where there’s a will, there’s a way. The piano trio plus accordion make it obvious: “Sometime” is for dreamers who believe that their dreams eventually come true.
Like the album’s title track, “Bridgemix” brings Gary’s horn section and electric bass back into the fold for a date with daring dissonance. Creative and alluring, the band gets up with a contemporary flair that keeps the modern in modern jazz while resting comfortably on a solid groove. Later in the program, “Chickish Tinge” takes the same unit for a hot, electric drive through contemporary space, reveling in its fine-line attachment to Chick Corea’s “Spain.” It’s like driving through lovely countryside all day long and being able to absorb everything in one fell swoop.
Both “That’s All” and “The Peacocks” feature Gary’s organ/guitar combo with Scott and Bill balancing gingerly along the way. Their straight-ahead conference leads to a lovely affair that nestles comfortably among familiar melodies. The themes from these two songs are welcomed like the return of friends and relatives who’ve been away for too long.
Gary adds electric bassist Damon Brown to “Slightly Blued,” which pumps up the drive through its ambitious blues texture. Here, with their expressive stories, both Gary and Scott remind us why those sounds are called blue notes.
Manic Moments closes with “Mas Que Nada” revisited, as Gary adds The Durham Children’s Choir to his ensemble. Reminding us that lyrics carry deep meaning to all forms of music, he ends the program with the kind of verbal expression that keeps things close and personal.
Gary Brunotte believes in rhythmic groove coupled with an obvious love for lyrical melody. Through his original songs and through his choice of instrumentation, he has adorned his latest album with harmonic thrills that last forever. They’re the kind of memories that we can carry with us for years. By tying jazz’s tradition to contemporary sounds from the leading edge, Gary has ensured that his program will appeal to a broad audience. With this session, we’ve got a package that appeals to our manic love for good jazz.
- Jim Santella, Jazz Journalist, writes for Cadence magazine and many other jazz publicationsEmail Gary Brunotte