BMR4 | Fixing A Hole

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Fixing A Hole

by BMR4

This ep from Chicago's quartet, BMR4 , continues their hip sax -guitar interpretations of neglected gems from Americas classical music. A return to the spirt of those Impulse recording from the sixties, while still being rooted in todays musical climate.
Genre: Jazz: Neo-Bop
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. The Maze
5:00 $0.99
2. Fixing A Hole
8:11 $0.99
3. You've Changed
8:14 $0.99
4. Barracudas (General Assembly)
10:20 album only
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Welcome to the debut recording by the BMR4. Recorded in 2004, it should not be confused with the BMR4’s debut release, which they recorded in 2006.
It will, or course, do just that – be mistaken for the band’s second album, even though they recorded it first. (That’s how people are, and we’ll all just have to live with it.)
Let’s review.
Actually, this first recording, which nobody’s heard, was directly responsible for the second recording, which came out several years later. “These were the demos that got us our deal with Hallway,” says Chris Bernhardt. Bernhardt is the bassist and leader of this canny but uncompromising Chicago quartet; and Hallway was the label that released the band’s Turning Point (their de facto debut album) in 2007.
Listening to these tracks now, Bernhardt admits, “They’re a little rough. And in the time since they were recorded, the band has grown immensely, as individuals and as a unit. But I still think these tracks have a charm to them. There’s no constraint in terms of performance time or the need to be ‘commercial.’ In a way, they remind me of those Impulse recordings of the 1960s – it’s just four tunes that create a mood and go for it.”
Bernhardt thinks of this music as his “Cassavetes phase.”
Movie mavens will recognize both the name and the reference: John Cassavetes, the infamously iconoclastic director who, in the 60s and 70s, created a skein of tough, realistic, often depressing, and wildly individualistic films, which drew raves from some critics and pretty much just confused everyone else. “He turned off a lot of people, but he made his own movies, which were often ridiculed at the time,” Bernhardt explains. “He mortgaged his house to make these films. He just wouldn’t compromise, and I admire that kind of person. At the time we recorded these tunes, I’d been compromising my whole life, so I figured – Why not just put out something I want?”
Bernhardt’s compromises have been of the kind made by most working musicians: playing society jobs and ax-for-hire gigs – background music for those temporarily cast as the stars of their own wedding, or bar mitzvah, or whatever. Once he’d decided to bust out on his own terms, he pulled together an unrestricted collection of favorites: one Beatles tune, one reworked jazz standard, and slightly arcane jazz classics from Gil Evans and Herbie Hancock – the tunes he wanted to play, audience concerns notwithstanding.
But the work of the BMR4 will have a far easier time locating its audience than did the films of Cassavetes. That’s because their music still rewards the casual listener even as it challenges the more experienced members of the audience.
Part of this has to do with repertoire. Most people don’t know a song like “The Maze,” which snuck in behind “Watermelon Man” on Hancock’s debut as a leader, Takin’ Off. As a result, they’ll hear something “new” (even though Hancock wrote and recorded the song in nearly 50 years ago). Yet those already familiar with this smart, meaty line will still get something different from the BMR4 recording, which replaces the original hard-bop lineup – horns, piano, bass, and drums – with a sleek, modernist instrumentation.
Those instruments, and the individuals who play them, add to this band’s contemporary appeal. With drummer Mike Rodbard, Bernhardt creates a sleek, easygoing swing, broken here and there by clusters of rhythmic turmoil. In the front line, saxist Jay Moynihan plays with a rough-hewn style and fervent tone that push hard against the urban cool of guitarist Neal Alger. Alger, one of Chicago’s busiest guitarists, has a particular talent for accompanying vocalists: he spent several years in Patricia Barber’s band, which seems to have only sharpened his taste for rich, lush harmonies.
Perhaps most important, while the members of this band play jazz, they think like rock musicians. They can hardly help it: they’ve all played both idioms throughout their careers. Bernhardt knows full well the value of this training, and the versatility it affords his band. “Coming from a rock background is one thing that puts us ahead of a lot of other jazz bands,” he continues. “We really know how to play to an audience. And from my background, I’ve also learned something about song selection. So since I was getting into jazz really late, I related my other experiences to my audience – how much they’re listening on a given night, how much they know about jazz."
It also helps that the BMR4 plays a lot of songs rooted in blues and r-and-b. Music by James Brown jostles up against familiar tunes from Steely Dan or the Beatles; up-tempo modal jazz tunes from the 60s share space with moody, atmospheric pieces straight out of a movie soundtrack; and the infectious groove of John Scofield’s music practically defines the BMR4 approach. “It’s music the general audience can relate to,” says Bernhardt, “but jazz folks like us too.”
The BMR 4 evolved from a blues-rock band called The Buzz, which Bernhardt founded in the late 90s. (BMR = Bernhardt, Moynihan, Rodbard.) Rodbard, a graduate of DePaul University’s School of Music, had already established himself as a respected drummer in a variety of styles; he eventually hooked up with the internationally acclaimed Lonnie Brooks Blues Band, with whom he continues to perform. Moynihan, who got his degree from the Berklee College of Music, moved to Chicago in the mid-90s and soon joined the bands led by blues stars Buddy Guy and Robert Cray.
As The Buzz, these three recorded a couple of independent albums and led the “Blue Monday” jams at Legends (the Chicago club owned by Buddy Guy). “But we were too eclectic,” says Bernhardt, explaining why the band never broke onto a big label: “we couldn’t be pinned down.” And along the way, Bernhardt developed an interest in jazz, at which point he thought of an old friend, Neal Alger – “not because he was a hot guitarist (which he is), but because I’d known him so long.” Bernhardt and Alger had met growing up in the Chicago suburbs, and in their teens did some jamming on rock and blues; as Bernhardt puts it, “I’ve been playing with Neal since before I could even play jazz.” Alger provided the last piece of the puzzle; unfortunately, Bernhardt couldn’t figure how to add the guitarist’s initial to the band’s name. (Hence BMR – 4. “It didn’t flow as good with the ‘A’ in there,” he says.)
Alger’s monogram may not fit into a phrase that rolls off the tongue. But his contribution provides the essential ingredient for a band that’s pretty easy on the ear – while maintaining a level of musicianship that’s good for the soul. Bernhardt has some other projects in mind –a more rock-oriented studio date; an anthology of “live” recordings showcasing vocalists who have worked with the band – but it’s the recordings on this disc that show the BMR4 in its purest, unadulterated form.
Too bad John Cassavetes isn’t around. The music might fit nicely in his films.




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