Chad Rager – 21st Century Groove

Chad Rager
21st Century Groove
(Strokeland Records – 2006)
by Donald Eichelberger

Chad Rager takes some fairly standard/mainstream material , gives it to a small big band/large combo, mixes-in large doses of creativity, and serves-up an entertaining live performance. The first selection, “Sing, Sing, Sing”, kicks off the CD with a solid, traditional big band sound. Chad Rage’s drumming entices you and makes you curious to hear what else he’s going to offer.

The arranger, Chris Young, mixes a variety of moods, introducing the whole band along the way: soloists, sections, and of course Chad Rager’s driving drums. Everybody gets a chance to shine: a sweet trombone solo, nice horn section work, especially the differing textures that are used to support each of the soloists, each texture matched to the provide each soloist with a background that is best suits that instruments characteristics. This allows each soloist an opportunity to showcase that instrument, as well as allowing each soloist a solid platform upon which to provide an improvisational gem. Mike Kamuf’s trumpet solo is a fine example of this marriage of soloist floating on custom-designed cushion of harmonies and rhythms. The horn section often uses lines that are richer and more jazzy versions of Tower of Power horns.

“Pyramid of Pachyderms” is a hard swinging number that sometimes moves away from the big band sound and drops-down to almost a combo feel. Fans of big band and barry sax will love this cut! Even when the full band resurfaces, the overall feel remains intimate, but solid—not skimping on fullness in the sound

This is a lighter version of “Straight No Chaser”. It’s almost un-Monkish. This time the horn sections are sparsely used, once more, giving a small combo sound/feel. Brooke Hopkins’s arrangement accomplishes this by carefully alternating between melodic sections and harmonic sections of the piece, using the full band on the harmonic sections, and using only the essential elements of the band during the melodic sections. A nice touch.

On the CD, several cuts begin with a drum solo, of varying lengths. This cut, “St Bernard”, begins with a full-blown solo that demonstrates Chad Ranger’s solid skills and ability to weave an interesting percussive display. He drives, he floats, and like preacher, he delivers his “sermon” and then sets the stage for the choir to “take you home”. The arrangement has an ultra-modern, hip, sophisticated moodiness that is established by the drums in the introduction. Somehow, Chad Ranger manages to maintain an intense tempo intense, without heavy-handed drumming.

“Zamba Samba” evokes the appropriate tropical mood. Complex and varied horn section lines are juxtaposed against the piano, almost like a pas de deux. And once again, good section work renders both a big band feel and a combo feel. The composition is has an interesting harmonic structure that works well within the context of a traditional samba song form. Compared to the preceding cuts, “Chicklets” is an unusual arrangement. At first, it’s difficult to tell when the intro ends and the song begins. This piece isn’t your usual song-form; it’s more like a series of vignettes. However, once the band settles into what turns out to be a rather serious groove, the piece moves sinuously and smoothly like a fish gliding through water. Then, the song ends as it began. Only now, what at first seemed ethereal and elusive, has now been clearly identified and solidly nailed-down.

The big band feel is recaptured on “Smile”. It’s a traditional arrangement for a standard song, but this arrangement has a bit more zip and zest than one might normally associate with this song. In fact, this version of “Smile” is downright giddy. If you like dancing to swing, this cut will get you out of your chair, grabbing your baby, and trying not to bump into the furniture too much because you’re going to try to use the whole room on this one. Makes you wanna get expansive, emotive and extravagant. If you’re by yourself, you’ll probably do a rather energetic soft-shoe. “The Heat’s On”: I recognized this song without actually recognizing it, if you know what I mean. What I mean is, Rager and friends have reintroduced me to an old friend, only all spruced-up. Familiar, but new. Loved for its familiarity but appreciated in its new incarnation. It ‘s always nice to be shown something—something that you thought you knew—with a fresh and perspective that makes you fall in love all over again.

“Whipping Post” is a nice cut to end on. It showcases everyone, both individually and the sections, but the ethereal beauty blooms when Rager doe s his solo. A truly impressive performance. Some excellent snare work! Rager’s solo is a well-formed structure that gives him the freedom to explore his creative percussive heat, raw flames and sullen molten lava. And this song even has a surprise ending. I didn’t think it was gonna go there! Glad it did, though. A fitting climax! Chad Rager has the ability to be present without being pushy. He’s there when you need to hear him, but he knows how to set-up and support his mates without getting in their way. He never detracts or distracts. He’s almost invisible at times, but you know that if he wasn’t there, there’d be one huge hole. This man fills the hole, just right. Like a good meal, satisfying, especially if you don’t overeat. Rager’s like that, just enough drums to satisfy, without filling you up.

I know that this was a live recording, but I was happy that I was spared having to listen the songs being introduced to the audience! If you enjoy most of the styles that jazz can take, Rager offers several “flavors” to choose from, and you won’t be disappointed.