One Track Mind: Natalie Cressman and Secret Garden, "Honeysuckle Rose" (2012)

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Whether she’s the female answer to Trombone Shorty or the trombone version of Esperanza Spalding is something I’ll leave other to decide, but there seems little question that twenty year old Natalie Cressman is destined to enter into a lot of conversations about jazz’s most exciting newest members of the scene.

Her pedigree alone suggests talent: daughter of Brazilian jazz singer Sandy Cressman and Santana trombonist Jeff Cressman, Natalie picked up the trombone at a young age and proved to be a fast learner. At around 16, she joined Peter Apfelbaum’s New York Hieroglyphics band, which plays an advanced, global type of avant-garde jazz. She’s also toured with Trey Anastasio of Phish for a couple of years.

Currently pursuing a music degree at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, she’s assembled a band of her own, Secret Garden, made up mostly of current or past fellow MSoM students, like Ivan Rosenberg (trumpet), Jake Goldbas (drums) and Ruben Samama (bass). Chad Lefkowitz-Brown (tenor sax) and Pascal LeBeouf (piano) round out this young, vital ensemble whose oldest member is 25.

Next week, Cressman and her band will issue her first record as a leader, Unfolding. In it, she shows off her abilities not just as a trombonist, but also a vocalist, composer and interpreter.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Nick DeRiso surveys Esperanza Spalding’s ‘Radio Music Society’ and wonders what’s the big fuss over the bassist/singer.]

Now, I’m one to hone in on the instrumental songs over the vocal ones when there’s a mixture of both, but the track that sticks out above all the other ones is one where the trombone is at rest. Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” reeled in my ears for its organically modern R’n’B presentation, with only an electric piano the only plugged in instrument. But Goldbas’ hip-hop rim shot beat, Samama’s pocket-minding bass struts along with LeBeouf’s cool-toned Rhodes create this very modern, lean R&B take on Waller’s eighty year old tune.

Cressman’s vocals, airy and relaxed, make the connection to the song’s storied past. LeBeouf provides the warm, understated solo, and when Cressman returns, it’s in sweet three part harmony, putting more emphasis on the soul side the band found in this song.

In the final analysis, I think the reason why Natalie Cressman & Secret Garden’s take on “Honeysuckle Rose” is so fresh goes back to what I noted earlier: everyone in the band is twenty-five or younger; they are more attuned to the music of today and can figure out how jazz can fit into it.

Jazz was never meant to be frozen in a certain state. While a healthy respect of tradition is important, it needs to more forward to stay viable, and ultimately it’s really up to the younger generations to give it that push. Natalie Cressman & Secret Garden are doing their part.

Unfolding goes on sales at the usual outlets August 20. Visit Natalie Cressman’s website for more info.

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