Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Get to Know: Hailey Niswanger

"I was excited to see that Hailey Niswanger had a second release "The Keeper" (Calmit Productions 2012) hitting the street this past month, it being her second recording afer the excellent "Confeddie" (Self-Produced 2009) introduced her to the world. I wasn't blogging when "Confeddie" hit the streets, but I was reading and buying in my usual madcap manner and did pick that first disc up from CDBaby when it came out, and it was well worth the money. So picking up this second disc was a no-brainer. I hope that after reading this report or others, you too will give both discs a spin.

A really quick background on this amazing talent. Born February 12, 1990 in Houston, Hailey Niswanger completed her studies at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, where she studied jazz performance.  Shockingly, that first disc "Confeddie" was produced while still at Berklee in 2009 at the age of 19!  Nat Hentoff in the Wall Street Journal has provided a really terrific introduction and background on her, found at:

so I will leave it to him to give you more.

"Confeddie" features Michael Palma on piano, Greg Chaplin on bass, and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums along with Niswanger, and includes seven covers and one original, "Confeddie." Highlights for me include energetic versions of "Four in One" by Monk, "Stablemates" by Benny Golson, and "Oliloqui Valley" by Herbie Hancock, although it is all good.  Although Niswanger also plays soprano sax, clarinet and flute, she showcased only her alto sax skills on the CD.  An authoritative straight-ahead recording, "Confeddie" is a striking debut for a 19 year old, with an instrumental confidence and arrangements of these modern jazz classics that were handled in a fresh and lively manner by the group. Her own title track, an excellent effort that blended in with the classics, was named for both “confetti”, to convey a festive feeling,  and the first name of legendary saxophonist Eddie Harris, in whose style she wrote it. Some quotes from the jazz community will tell you more than I can:
  • Dr. Billy Taylor -- "I was very impressed by the way she played and handled herself, especially as a leader.  Her group was very good -- very tight – and they got a standing ovation. I especially liked Hailey’s playing…she makes the saxophone do what it’s supposed to do. Hailey's trying to say something personal and that’s what jazz is about.  What she's saying is “here's the music of some jazz masters and I want to join them and spread the joy of this music and keep it alive for future generations.” 
  • John Clayton -- "Hailey Niswanger’s debut CD is mind blowing on several levels.  Her advanced, lyrical and interesting solo lines are mature beyond imagination.  She naturally flows through her extended vocabulary of historical saxophone combined with newer, fresher ideas.  But I am primarily swept away by the joy she emanates as her soul pours from the bell of her horn."  
  • Terri Lyne Carrington -- "Hailey Niswanger has all the important characteristics of true jazz musicianship. Her consummate debut "Confeddie," illustrates her bright and rising voice in the sound of jazz today, etched in a deep-rooted sense of tradition and legacy. What makes Hailey so special is her sound and phrasing (beyond her years), as well as her attention to melody and song - not just notes and scales".
Hailey Niswanger"The Keeper" reverses the content of her two playlists, with eight self-penned songs and three covers -- "Milestones" by Miles, "Played Twice" by Monk, and "Night and Day" by Cole Porter. The group has changed as well, with a new pianist, Takeshi Ohbayashi, bassist, Max Moran, and a trumpet, Darren Barrett, on three tracks. Mark Whitfield Jr. stays on on drums. Niswanger has kept her traditionalist approach basically the same even as she composed the majority of the tunes. As a result, she delivers a solid set of straight-ahead jazz that recognizes the past while exploring the present day ethos in the jazz community. Pianist Ohbayashi, another Berklee graduate (2011) and someone new to me worth watching for, is terrific, and really shines on "Night and Day" with his intimate duet with Niswanger.  Niswanger brings out her soprano sax on this disc for the first time, and lets us all hear her sweet, well-rounded tone on “Played Twice.” “Milestones” is highlighted by the trumpet playing of Darren Barrett, who also plays on the up-tempo “Tale of Dale,” which opens with he an Niswanger playing with and around each other and setting the stage for an intricate tune. Watch too for some lovely soloinig by bassist Max Moran on several tracks, including the lovely song "Norman", and enjoy the ballad play of  “Balance,”  another showcase for Niswanger’s soprano.

Start following Hailey Niswanger now, and someday you can say you were there at the beginning.

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