Debonair And Stylish to The Core
By Susan Frances
Saxophonist Andrew Neu made his debut in 2000 with his solo album Inspire, presenting material that exhibited his flare for stylish chord movements and sensual elevations. He maintained that standard in his 2007 sophomore album In Clear View, and has now taken his flare for debonair lifts to new heights on his third solo CD, Try Something Neu. Working with a cast of musicians whom he refers to as “the best in the business,” Neu beams with pride over his offering from NuGroove Records, his first on the prestigious label.
He extols, “I could not be more proud of Try Something Neu. It's really the most sophisticated CD I've recorded thanks to the great team of musicians helping me along with some great songs. I'm glad that I was able to bring other styles and elements of my musical personality into the umbrella of smooth jazz. When preparing for any recording or performance I practice a lot. I like knowing that I'm ready to play my best when I'm called to do so. Fortunately, I love to play so I never get tired of taking out my horn. This is my first CD for NuGroove Records. I couldn't have gotten to this point without having recorded Inspire (2000) and In Clear View (2007). I think I've gotten more mature as a player and producer. Opportunities have opened up for me with each new recording.”
Performing on Try Something Neu are Bob Caldwell, bassist/producer Brian Bromberg, Chuck Loeb, Brian Culbertson, and Gerald Veasley. Neu explains how Culbertson came to be on the recording, “Brian Bromberg was finishing up his new CD when I was recording mine at his studio. He had used Brian Culbertson on a number of tracks and told me I gotta get him! He actually played trombone on ‘The Nut’ along with my friend Tony Bonsera from Big Bad Vodoo Daddy on trumpet. He's a super player and had some great suggestions. His ears are amazing. He had just released Bringing Back the Funk so he had real insight on such a funky tune. There's a picture of us at the recording session on my Facebook page. We had a great time with a lot of laughs.”
The track “The Nut” from Try Something Neu juts out with whirling horns and a funky strut producing bubbly sensations of the euphoric kind. Neu tells about the track, “’The Nut’ was written by Dave Kochanski (The Rippingtons, Britney Spears, American Idol). Brian did not hold back when he put together the track. He and Dave Weckl laid down a killer groove. I wrote the horn parts. We didn't worry about making this a nice quiet tune. It's slammin'! Brian [Bromberg] is a brilliant producer and composer. He produced four tracks including the tune ‘Libra Rising’ that he wrote for me. ‘Open Mind’ is the first time that Brian produced one of my tunes. This time he brought in Dan Siegel as a soloist.”
Another special track on the album is Neu’s cover of Bob Caldwell’s song “Next Time I Fall In Love” with Caldwell singing on the number. It did not take long for Neu to convince Caldwell to sing on the track since Neu had previously played in Caldwell‘s touring band. “I was a huge fan of Bobby long before I started playing for him. He wrote ‘Next Time I Fall‘, but most people know the version by Peter Cetera and Amy Grant in 1986. I thought it would be serendipitous to record it together since we have such natural chemistry on stage. What a thrill it was hearing Bobby stack twelve vocal parts in the studio. He could not have been more professional. He's such a passionate vocalist and songwriter. Recording his song with his vocals could not have been more inspiring. It's so musical. We put two versions of the tune on the CD. One with a vocal lead and the other as an instrumental with Bobby's backgrounds. It's such a great track produced by Brian that we released it as our first single.”
Also on the recording is smooth jazz guitarist Chuck Loeb whom Neu had the pleasure of performing with in different settings over the years. “Chuck and I had played together several times at the Berks Jazz Fest. We headlined together along with Kim Waters at the Burlington Jazz Fest as well. We always had a great musical connection. He and his family could not have been more welcoming. Chuck is really good at every style of music. He started out playing bebop and acoustic jazz. He's now one of the most gifted smooth jazz artists and producers in the industry. He's fast in the studio and is good at putting you at ease and getting you to play your best. He wrote the tune ‘The Way Forward’ for me and produced ‘South By Southwest’. He tears it up on the opening track, ‘Chez Cool’.”
Neu also mentions, “Gerald Veasley, who produced four tracks on the CD had worked with Chuck many times before. Brian Bromberg and Chuck first worked together with Stan Getz and many times since. It was nice that Brian, Chuck and Gerald had a great relationship to bring together a cohesive record.”
As audiences could guess, the atmosphere in the recording studio was filled with energy and creative ideas as Neu professes, “I love the cats in my band. Not only do they play great, I think we all really like hanging out together. It takes a while to find the right chemistry between the musicians.”
For his live band, Neu presents, “Rob Cochran plays bass. He's played with Pieces Of A Dream, and we currently tour together with Bobby Caldwell. Harry Butch Reed on drums has played and recorded with Gerald Veasley and Grover Washington. Demetrios Pappas on keys is currently the music director for Smokey Robinson. Guitar player Rich Tucker is a veteran of Billy Paul, Jill Scott, Will Smith and Justin Timberlake. Everyone in my band is on my CD. Rob plays a beautiful bass solo on ‘Wanderlust’ and Demetrios played great solos on ‘No Hang Tonight’ and ‘Try Something Neu’. When I'm lucky, I love to use the Bright and Tight Horns. My big brother Peter Neu and Chuck Gottesman play trumpet. Brian Pastor plays trombone. There's a special bond that is present in a really tight horn section. Matching pitch, dynamics and phrasing are all elements of a great section. I love being a part of that and I try to bring that to my own music.”
Neu is able to translate his charismatic spins from his studio albums to the live stage effortlessly making his shows audience-friendly. He endorses, “That's the great thing about playing live shows. Several of the tunes on Try Something Neu have been in our sets for years including the title track and ‘No Hang Tonight’ featuring Chuck Gottesman on trumpet. We were able to see which tunes the audience responded to. Many of the performances on the CD were developed on the road. Other tunes were most effective when they were constructed in the studio. Gerald Veasley was instrumental as a producer in making sure that we were able to capture the energy of our live shows in the studio.”
Neu’s experience as a live performer includes playing concerts for his solo material in addition to being a sideman for other recording artists like Caldwell and performing in big bands like the Dave Stahl Band. He recalls, “I've been playing in big bands since I started on sax as a kid. I love the sound and the camaraderie of a band. I currently play jazz tenor with the Brian Pastor Big Band and the Dave Stahl band. Composing for big band is one of my passions. It's great to be able to have such great bands to write for. I think you can hear some of that influence in the writing on my recordings. Brian Pastor is the principal trombone with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops. He recorded three of my charts on his last CD including two tunes I'd recorded on my own CDs: ‘Seven Mile Bridge’ from In Clear View and ‘Midnight Buffet’ from Inspire.
Dave Stahl is the former lead trumpet for Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. As a band leader his style leans to Maynard Ferguson. He'll play a Coltrane tune followed by funk or Latin tune. As a soloist and section player you need to adapt to the style. It's exciting to play in bands like these that really challenge me.”
He weighs the differences between being a sideman and a solo artist and admits, “It's much more relaxing to play as a sideman. You can really focus on your performance without the distractions or the anxiety of being in charge. As a leader,” he observes, “you want to make sure everyone is happy. The audience, the band, the crew and the venue all look to you to set the tone. On the other hand being a leader allows you to set the direction of the music and vibe of the performance. It's pretty cool to be able to perform the music that you wrote in the way that you want to hear it.”
He reflects over the changes that the smooth jazz market has experienced since he entered its sphere in 2000 with his debut record Inspire. “
When I released Inspire in 2000 smooth jazz was a major force in radio. I was so young at the time that I wasn't able to really take advantage of it. It's a great record that listeners are still discovering for the first time. It did allow me to make that step and become a solo artist. When I first put together a band it was to play the songs that I'd been writing. That paved the way for me to release In Clear View in 2007. In that time I was introduced to Brian Bromberg by a mutual friend. That's what really put me on the national scene. It always helps to have "names" on your CD but the reason that they're "names" is because they are the best in the business. In the end I would still be doing what I'm doing whether I was successful or not. I just love my job!”
Anyone who could play the saxophone like Andrew Neu would enjoy their work. He was born to play with a debonair flare and possess a charismatic mannerism that suits smooth jazz‘s principles. His melodic vignettes offer an escape for audiences into a world filled with sensual lifts and dance-inspired grooves. Try Something Neu is a product of good chemistry among its musicians who show an instinct for stimulating those impulses that spark joy, and he hits that chord on every track.