Adam Meckler Orchestra brings modern twist to local jazz

Adam Meckler Orchestra
Adam Meckler Orchestra
Courtesy Tess Nyberg/Adam Meckler Orchestra

The Adam Meckler Orchestra's New Album, "When the Clouds Look Like This," is out this month - and it is anything but stuck in the past.

With its thoroughly modern tunes that are full of surprises, the recording reflects the tastes of an emerging generation of young improvisers. It fuses big band swing with a variety of other jazz influences, touches of chamber music, R&B and hip-hop -- in ways that are new, accessible and very cool.

Meckler, a trumpeter and composer, debuts the recording Friday at MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. In doing so, he joins a movement of composers who aim to forge a contemporary sound, among them Minnesota's Maria Schneider, Canadian Darcy James Argue and John Hollenbeck of New York.

Meckler counts the three composers among his biggest influences, along with the late Fred Sturm, the jazz director at Lawrence University, and Dean Sorenson of the University of Minnesota. But the trumpeter also draws heavily from recorded jazz and popular music.

"It's all about all the different influences that have happened in my life that have," Meckler said. "I've listened to R&B and hip-hop music and pop music and soul music and obviously tons and tons of jazz music, different kinds of jazz music."

Anything, he said, is fair game.

That's immediately clear on the album's first track, Buster Jones, where from the top, drummer Adrian Suarez's seemingly electronic drum-and-bass approach on acoustic drums makes it clear that the band is a long way from Glenn Miller's approach in the 1940s.

Like others who write for big bands, Meckler is more interested in the tradition established by Duke Ellington, who wrote music with the strengths of individual performers in mind, from pianist Joe Strachan, who also adds nice touches on "Buster Jones" to saxophonist Nelson Devereaux, who delivers a soaring solo on "Skyline."

"As a composer, that's really your job," Meckler said, "put them in a place where they can really shine and show what they can do."

Meckler often composes at the piano, singing melodies as he goes. He wrote the title track with the singing abilities of his wife, Jana Nyberg, and trumpeter Cameron Kinghorn in mind. The result is a light, airy number that has an orchestral feel and gives the singers room to improvise.

In the Twin Cities, Meckler has honed his performing skills as a member of the Pete Whitman X-tet, which includes bassist Gordy Johnson and drummer Phil Hey, two of the region's most respected players.

The trumpeter has clearly paid attention, building on their example to compose stimulating tunes that engage his band. Among them is "Beautiful Beatrice," a composition that employs a frenetic interplay between bass and drums at the start. After the band establishes a sense of chaos, they begin a melody that leads to invigorating free solos by drummer Pete Hennig and saxophonist Shilad Sen before ending with lush chords and harmony.

"You have to earn it," Meckler said of the tune, which will be demanding for some listeners. "You have to listen to a lot of craziness before you get there."

In an era of highly commercialized music, writing for a big band isn't easy. But Meckler is committed to traditional music and intends to advance it with modern touches. Artists, he said, need to trust that even though popular culture isn't behind them, great tunes will never go out of style.

"There are still people that want to hear this kind of music," he said. "I think the desire to hear acoustic music or to hear people playing real instruments has definitely come back."

If you go: Adam Meckler Orchestra
Where: MacPhail Center for Music, Antonella Hall, 501 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis
When: Friday, 7 p.m. Tickets, available at the door, are $10.

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