“Essência is a joyful romp through the musical landscape of the Americas guided by master pianist Otmaro Ruiz and exciting new guitar virtuoso, Bruno Mangueira. Their musical partnership is informed by their Venezuelan and Brazilian heritages fused with their deep love and understanding of American jazz and the European classical tradition.
Otmaro and Bruno flawlessly navigate this landscape with a program of eight original compositions and two standards. Each song feels like a suite, taking us through a wide range of dynamics and emotional territory. Impressively, their original compositions sound like they could be standards. They evoke the timeless feeling of classic songs by Tom Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal, and other Brazilian masters while maintaining the vibrancy of the present. There are hints of Bach, Chopin, and lush harmonic passages that will send music theory students racing for their notepads.
I love the program’s intelligent balance of composition and improvisation. In the Brazilian tradition, one might expect the balance to be weighted toward composition and jazz, toward improvisation. Essência has managed to marry the two in a cohesive and natural way. The song construction is airtight while the performances and improvisations take us for a wild and exciting ride. Neither Otmaro nor Bruno shy away from taking chances. The gorgeous yet sometimes unexpected harmonies are constantly shifting and it takes a skilled improviser to make their way through this treacherous terrain and arrive safely on the other side. Otmaro and Bruno are our able guides.
Duo playing demands an extraordinary level of musicianship. Every note, every gesture is exposed. The musicians must breathe together and have an almost telepathic connection. Each player must fully grasp the entirety of each piece, as their constantly shifting roles require them to alternately supply melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic support for one another. It’s a daring high wire partnership calling for empathy and a deep commitment to the music and to one another. Otmaro and Bruno embody these qualities throughout. Essência celebrates the joy of two master musicians as they explore the essence of their beloved musical traditions in this intimate setting and guide us to new landscapes and possibilities.”
- Russell Ferrante (YellowJackets), August 2019
“Reflections from Dave Pope”
This project, which is my first commercial recording, has come to fruition much too late in life in life but better late than never. Juggling family life, a career in banking, and a music career on multiple instruments has been quite an endeavor but one I would not trade for anything. I made a conscious decision in my early twenties to choose a dual career path, knowing the challenge would be to do justice to both. Since then, I have committed to being the best musician I can be under the circumstances and have worked very, very hard at being able to “hang” with musicians at the level on this record.
There are several special aspects of this record worth mentioning. It is the debut recording of my brother Mike on piano, which is actually his “second”instrument. Primarily known as a virtuoso bass player, this record gives Mike the opportunity to make a musical contribution as a pianist and as you will hear, the contribution is remarkable. Also, it joins Mike with his mento on bass, John Patitucci of whom I have always been a big fan and am honored to have on the record.
This recording was tracked in two half-day sessions at Mike’s studio with virtually no pre-session planning. It was also mixed and mastered by Mike with the kind assistance of our brother Peter during tracking. The project was intentionally loose, spontaneous, and not overly produced. My objective was to have fun and document what was happening musically in our lives in the moment. More importantly, I hope you will have fun listening. - DAVE POPE
When I convened the first rehearsal of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra in August of 1999, I had no way of knowing the extent to which this experience would shape the next two decades of my life. I had just moved back to Knoxville after four years in Chicago, and my immediate goal was to create an outlet for my newfound love of writing for big band. I envisioned periodic rehearsals to read new arrangements and perhaps a few gigs at local night clubs. Beyond that, there was no plan. It would just be fun to get together with some of the region’s best players and make music for a couple of hours.
On that first night, the band read all four of the arrangements that I had written to date, plus music by Thad Jones, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and perhaps a few others. By the time the rehearsal was within aa month we’d played our first public concert. By December, we had established a regular performance schedule at a local restaurant and started to attract a small following.
We may have continued in this fashion for a while before slowly fizzling out the way that so many similar projects to, but two important early milestones intervened and gave the band a clear sense of purpose. In September of 1999, Keith Brown asked me to write big band arrangements on six Donald Brown composition for the UT student big band’s Spring concert. Although we could not perform those arrangements publicly before the UT debut, the KJO became the laboratory for these new arrangements, allowing me to instantly hear what I had written, and simultaneously creating the beginning of a unique library of music.
The second milestone occurred in January of 2000. The band was wrapping up a rehearsal of the new arrangements when trombonist Don Hough, one of the band’s elder statesmen asked if he could have everyone’s attention. He walked to the front of the band and said, “Ive been in Knoxville for a long time and we’ve never and anything like this before. This band is special and should be treated as such. I propose that we figure out a way to get to Europe next summer to play some festivals.” The response was unanimous. Of course we’d like to go to Europe to perform!
In the months that followed, we hired a travel agent and began making plans for our trip abroad. We recorded the new arrangements, self-released our first CD (The Music of Donald Brown, 2000) and used the recording to secure performance slots for July of 2001 at Jazz a Vienne, the Montreux Jazz Festival and Festival International de Jazz in Ezcaray, Spain. We played as many local and regional gigs as we could, pooling all of the money together toward our common goal. The money that could not be raised through playing gigs was paid from our own pockets.
By the time we returned from our trip, the band was completely transformed. We had found not only a cohesive sound, but also a common purpose. Everyone in the group had a sense of ownership. While the Europe trip was important for galvanizing the band, it was not a sustainable business model. To survive and thrive, we needed to build a local audience to enable us to play regularly in appropriate listening venues. We applied for non-profit status with the mission of promoting jazz in our region, and in early 2002 began presenting concerts featuring notable guest artists alongside the band. By 2006, we’d gained enough traction to begin booking an entire series of events. As of the writing of these notes, our organization presents more than fifty events per year, from free outdoor summer concerts, to ticketed events at venues both large and small.
The music on this disc represents the entire journey. “Back Down In Lu Easy Anna” dates back to the original batch of arrangements, while “The Road Less Traveled” was written this year specifically for this recording. “Woody’n You” was created for a 2003 performance with saxophonist James Moody. We performed with Mulgrew Miller that same year and arranged the chart on “Grew’s Tune” as a result. “The Tennessee Waltz” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” were done for a concert we called, “Country and Bluegrass Meet the Big Baand” in 2019. “Ask Me Now”, “Rhythm-A-Ning” and “Monk’s Mood” came from a 2012 Thelonious Monk tribute concert featuring pianist Eric Reed and “At Last” was commissioned by Doc Severinsen at the end of a hour tour that we played with him in 2015. In 2018, we performed with guitarist Bill Frisell, leading to the orchestration of his beautiful take on “What The World Needs Now”. And a 2019 performance with Jazzmela Horn spawned the chart on Jimmy Rowle’s’ haunting ballad “The Peacocks”.
The guest soloists each have unique connections to the journey as well. Eric Reed, Michael Dease, Carmen Bradford, and Gregory Tardy have each performed with the band on one or more occasions over the years. They made stunning contributions and we are grateful for their willingness to participate with us in this effort.
Thomas Heflin was a student at UT when the band was formed. He quickly earned a spot in the trumpet section and although he has since relocated around the country several times, he has continued to perform with the band whenever his schedule allows. Guitarist Mike Seal was also a student at UTK when the band was formed. Although he had never performed with the group before this recording, I had worked with him on various projects over the years and knew that he would add the perfect touch to “Tennessee Waltz”, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “What The World Needs Now”.
Saxophonist Greg Tardy was brought in from NYC to guest on our “Blues Man From Memphis” recording in 2004. He mentioned in a passing that Knoxville was a beautiful place and that he could see himself living here. This started a conversation that led to him being hired as Assistant Professor of Saxophone at The University Of Tennessee in 2010. He has been a regular member of the KJO ever since and has been a huge shot in the arm for our band and our town.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the selfless dedication of the gentlemen in the orchestra. They have gone above and beyond, year after year, honing their craft and giving of their time and energy. Maintaining a high level of musical skill in a town like Knoxville requires a very special sort of dedication, since the scene is not large enough for musicians to support themselves by performing alone. The band is as good as it is because these men have continued to choose the road less traveled. They have ultimately created something that is much larger than the sum of its parts, and I could not be more proud to call them all friends. This past twenty years have flown by. Here’s to twenty more! - Vance Thompson (Leader/Director of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra)