What’s On Your Playlist: Nick Grinder

By Christian Wissmuller

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Slide Hampton has hailed trombonist Nick Grinder as “an important future voice in jazz trombone.” The young artist has fulfilled that promise in the big bands of Alan Ferber, Darcy James Argue, and Arturo O’Farrill, as well as performing with a range of exceptional artists such as Wycliffe Gordon, Jimmy Owens, Ralph Alessi, and Donny McCaslin. He’s also worked on Broadway and in pop music, performing with the likes of Lorde, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Patti LaBelle, DMX, and Deltron 3030.

Grinder’s most recent recording Farallon, inspired by the Farallon Islands – the nearby locale that served as a backdrop for Grinder’s childhood and coming of age in the Bay Area – is a striking testament to his musicianship. At once modern, forward-thinking, powerfully melodic, and full of warmth and emotional directness, the album, shines brightly – as does Grinder’s playing.

1. SolangeWhen I Get Home

I often find myself stuck in the past when I listen to music, and as musician still alive and making music, I think that can be great, but also a little limiting. WIGH is really good contemporary music! There’s almost an improvisatory feel to it (as is with so much well thought out music), as well as some really interesting and ear-catching harmonic movement that will convince even the most die-hard jazz student to keep listening. It’s also an album where you can really hear how the jazz arc of BAM has folded in perfectly with the rest of the music. Solange’s voice, message, and musical direction on this make it an album that is both trance-inducing and revealing on every new listen.

2. Earth Wind and FireI Am

Although I only started listening to this album a few months ago, it’s quickly become one of my “desert island” picks. It’s almost embarrassing that I was only familiar with EWF on a surface level until I listened to this (I think everyone who’s played or attended a wedding knows “September”), but I’m happy that I began listening more intently, as this has been a great window into EWF’s library. As a trombonist, I also have to say the horn writing is fantastic and amazingly executed. The section is at times showcased, at times supportive, but never an afterthought. This album makes you feel good, it’s interesting, and it makes you move. We all need music like that.

3. Manny AlbamBrass On Fire

This is one of my go-to big band recordings, even though there are no saxophones on it! Manny Albam has such a wonderfully innovative approach, and the no-reed instrumentation really allows the subtleties and individuality of his writing to shine. I am also constantly trying to find examples of great lead trombone playing – I’m listening for how the lead trombonist interprets and phrases, but also how they sync up with the lead trumpet player. Bob Brookmeyer, Danny Stiles, and Ernie Royal are about the best example of this one can find, and in a very unique setting, sans saxophones. Track this one down if you can.

4. TakemitsuRain Tree, The Complete Solo Piano Music of Toru Takemitsu (with Noriko Ogawa)

I was recently introduced to Takemitsu’s music and find it really refreshing. I am about the worst student of contemporary western art music you can find, but something about Takemitsu’s compositions sound very familiar and are easy to connect with – not so much in a “hum this melody” way, but more in the state that is induced. Themes and motives are introduced very slowly and built so naturally. While not to be confused with easy listening, I feel this album is restful and helpful for internal reflection. I particularly have enjoyed it while experiencing the varied challenges of public transportation.

5. Antonio Carlos JobimStone Flower

I love how Jobim writes melodies and uses sections to build and weave a narrative; it’s so instructive for composition because it’s so simple yet effective. The orchestration is also very interesting on this album – lots of alto flute and low brass. Add the tasteful rhythm section of Ron Carter, Airto Moeira, and Joao Palma and it’s really a winner. I’m particularly drawn to Urbie Green’s beautiful interpretations on this record, especially on the track “Andorinha.” I’ve transcribed many of these solo lines and used them as a window into his fantastic concept of ballad playing.

6. Arnold SchoenbergVerklarte Nacht

I love this era of Schoenberg’s writing. The wheels were just starting to come off of tonality, and there is just so much soul in the music – it’s almost delightfully dirty. Even though genres are often classified by critics and “outside forces” other than the composers themselves, I feel this is one example of straddling the line between two eras of music that make this piece particularly innovative. I love music that pushes the boundaries of familiarity.

7. JJ JohnsonGoodies

Like many trombonists, JJ Johnson was my first idol. I am constantly struck by how he maintains such restraint in his solos while still communicating excitement, urgency, and playfulness. His big band compositions illuminate this aspect of him so well – nothing is wasted, everything has a purpose, and his solos weave and elevate the entire composition in a truly effective way. The musicians on this recording are also such fine examples of ensemble playing – the bass trombone clinic Alan Raph gives on “Billy Boy” is a gem! There are a few recordings of JJ’s big band writing and they are all worth checking out.

8. Thelonious MonkAlone In
San Francisco

I love Thelonious Monk, especially hearing him play solo piano. It’s like listening to a famous composer perform their own works, but Monk’s own works aren’t just his tunes – they’re his entire concept. I love how grounded in stride and history Monk is, but also how forward thinking his rhythmic sense was. I can practically hear a type of backbeat to his music that wasn’t widespread until hip-hop in the ‘80s. Most of all, I am moved by his ballad writing, as it’s so complete. Nothing is wasted, and harmony and melody work together so seamlessly that you almost can’t discern between the two. “Pannonica” and “Reflections” off this album are two of my favorite versions of these tunes.

9. Willie Colon and Ruben BladesSiembra

This is another one of my “desert island” albums. There is so much power and beauty in this album, I have listened to it for days at a time, sometimes the full album many times in a row. I always thought the complete trombonist should play salsa and be well-versed with Eddie Palmieri, Fania, and Barry Rogers, and also be able to play a little bit of conga. (Unfortunately the conga hasn’t quite happened for me yet.) This extremely popular album is definitely something every musician should listen to, and in my opinion lives up to its critical and popular acclaim.

10. Sonny RollinsA Night At The Village Vanguard

This is one of those albums I feel silly trying to describe with words. If you haven’t checked this out, please, please do it! It’s one of my favorite two nights of music ever recorded and an inventive example of chord-less trio playing. Sonny Rollins is the feeling of both deep depression and unmitigated joy occurring at the very same time. If you can, put down what you’re doing and go listen to this record! With Elvin Jones on drums and Wilbur Ware on bass.

Nick Grinder’s album, Farallon (Outside in Music), dropped on February 22, 2019. www.nickgrinder.com

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