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Jon Pemberton | On the Edge

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Jazz: Mainstream Jazz Jazz: Post-Bop Moods: Type: Instrumental
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On the Edge

by Jon Pemberton

Lyrical, hard swingin' post-bop jazz piano trio. Outstanding original compositions. Top notch sidemen.
Genre: Jazz: Mainstream Jazz
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. On the Edge
4:24 $0.99
2. Gail Ellen
5:15 $0.99
3. Remembering the Fallen
4:26 $0.99
4. Liner Notes
4:47 $0.99
5. Randall's Gone Away
4:50 $0.99
6. Power Trip
4:06 $0.99
7. Cool Streams
4:12 $0.99
8. Monk's Mood
4:32 $0.99
9. One for John Clegg
4:22 $0.99
10. The Lord's Prayer
4:44 $0.99
11. Break for Zander
3:57 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Twin Cities based jazz pianist, Jon Pemberton, will delight listeners with his lyrical, swingin' post-bop trio. First call sidemen Gary Raynor (bass) and Jay Epstein (drums) round out a very strong line-up. On the Twin Cities jazz scene since the early 80's, Pemberton has established himself as a triple threat (pianist/trumpeter/composer). Excellent original compositions are featured along side two tunes by Twin Cities piano legend, Bobby Peterson and a beautiful solo piano version of Thelonious Monk's, "Monk's Mood." Mainstream, post-bop, lyricism; there's something for all to enjoy on this exciting new release.

CD Liner Notes by Tom Surowicz of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
The first time that I heard Jon Pemberton play, he was a member of a groovy little group called The Skatet. They mixed bouncy Jamaican ska music with driving hard bop, and were led by a unique individual named Elmar "Mr. E." Romain, still going strong in a salsa band now, plus as a deejay in the wee hours of the overnight shift on KFAI-FM radio. Jon was in the horn section, playing trumpet.

I caught Pemberton many times in many contexts after that, always playing the trumpet. He led a fine group of his own dubbed The Pembertones for several years. Wonder where they got that name? It co-starred the late great Minnesota piano legend, Bobby Peterson, playing one of his other instruments, the alto sax. Pemberton also turned up in the avant jazz big band Imp Ork. And he staged a well-researched and hard-grooving yearly two-night bar tribute to his trumpet hero, Lee Morgan.

I can't recall exactly when I first heard Pemberton play his instrument of choice on this fine relaase -- the piano. But I can pinpoint when he really made a favorable and unexpected keyboard impression on this freelance writer (and drinker) about town. Jon was hired to be in the backing band of a very interesting young singer and sometimes stand-up bassist from Portland, Belinda Underwood. He proved to be an agile, simpatico accompanist and combo anchor. Belinda liked him a lot, and she knows her pianists, having recorded and worked often with the estimable Benny Green. In fact, she was surprised to find that her piano man on a week's worth of club dates was known around the Twin Cities as a trumpeter.
Now with the release of On The Edge, Pemberton will definitely be leading a double life. And that's selling him short. Pianist/trumpeter/composer, the man from St. Paul is officially a triple threat.

Jon wastes no time grabbing our ear. "On The Edge" is driving, catchy and brainy -- a groove tune for the Mensa set. It reminds me of the Kenny Barron classic, "Voyage," and that's what I call getting off on a very good foot.
It's clear that Pemberton is in great company, so let's introduce our rhythm section. Bassist Gary Raynor is heard weekly on the national public radio smash hit cash cow, "A Prairie Home Companion," accompanying legendary Garrison Keillor and a motley array of special guests as a member of Guy's All-Star Shoe Band. Gary was Sammy Davis, Jr.'s personal touring bassist for several years, and he's recorded with everyone from the Jewish roots band, Klezmerica, to pop superstar Janet Jackson. Yet Raynor's a jazzman at heart, with that time, tone and feel coming through on every track. Dig his eloquent solo turn on the next selection, "Gail Ellen."

Meanwhile, Jay Epstein has come a long, long way from his early 1970s days as the drummer of the hitmaking rock group, Gypsy. One of the most sensitive, discreet, yet steadily swinging sticksmen in the Midwest, a poet of the cymbals, he's a perfect piano trio drummer. Epstein's two CDs as a leader -- "Long Ago" and "Easy Company," both co-starring Bill Carrothers and Anthony Cox -- leave no doubt about it.

Now back to our program. "Gail Ellen" is quite lovely, but also a little spikey and certainly propulsive, a dedication song to Bobby Peterson's wife. Here it's time to talk about Bobby P, Mr. Pemberton's piano mentor. A prodigy who joined the Buddy Rich band at the ripe old age of 21, Bobby Peterson was an unstoppable force on the keyboard, and a wonderful guy offstage. Already established as a jazz trumpeter, Pemberton told his pal about his childhood days as a fast-track student of classical piano. Could he build on that knowledge, learn about chord voicings and jazz playing and become a multi-instrumentalist? Peterson was more than casually enthusiastic -- in fact, he commenced giving his friend and sometimes bandmate several years of weekly piano lessons. For free! There would be no "On The Edge" were it not for Bobby Peterson, also represented later in the set by the fetching composition, "Cool Streams."

This CD has three great tribute tracks. "Remembering The Fallen" is a reverie, a musical elegy. It was written in response to the collapse of the 35W bridge in Minneapolis, a tragedy that made grim national news, and is dedicated to the victims, their families and friends. "Randall's Gone Away" is another example of Pemberton's flair for ballad-writing, another beautiful reverie, with an instantly familiar-sounding melody. It's dedicated to a favorite uncle and benefactor, a bachelor who lived into his 90s, and who recently passed on leaving his jazz nephew a small inheritance, some of which got spent at the recording studio. "One For John Clegg" is another romantic-sounding track, a salute to a salty barfly guy who played baritone sax in big bands and R&B groups, was jazz buyer and expert at a hip St. Paul record shop, and was beloved by legions of music students. Everybody called him JC, like the savior. Though knowing John, he was probably happier that he shared initials with Trane.

Speaking of Christ, we come to "The Lord's Prayer," my kinda religious music. Stately and groovy, spiritual and downhome funky. It was written during Pemberton's roughly two-year tenure as music director at Mercy Seat Lutheran Church in NE Minneapolis, a freewheeling house of worship well-known in musical circles. Written for congregational singing, it works quite nicely as an instrumental. Did I mention the audio quality? Matthew Zimmerman at Wild Sound did his usual splendid job -- it sounds likes the guys are right there in the living room with ya. They're on the edge, you're on the couch.
"Monk's Mood" is the lone well-known cover, the set's jazz classic, and Pemberton's solo showcase. It's also the one track where echoes of his childhood classical piano studies surface. Dig that intro, maestro. Why arrangements like this of Monk masterpieces aren't routinely programmed in concert halls alongside Gershwin preludes or something by Satie escapes me. Gorgeous!

And now for the swingers in the house, we have the groove tunes. "Liner Notes" (like that title!) is one of Pemberton's oldest compositions, dating back to his college years (1979-83). An old-school 12-bar blues, it harkens back to the 1950s and 1960s, a halcyon era for jazz. Pemberton mentions Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, Tommy Flanagan, and Barry Harris as inspirations, and I'd also toss in my main man, Horace Silver. If "Liner Notes" is punchy yet easygoing, a walk in the downtown park, "Power Trip" is a high-speed ride down the Blue Note Records 1960s freeway. It's controlled intensity, right from Epstein's opening drum flourish. This song would sound great with a trumpet player blowing over the top (I have one in mind), or a full horn section with trumpet, sax and trombone. Next album?

Finally, there's "Break For Zander," written when Pemberton was getting regular gigs at the now-defunct Zander Cafe in St. Paul. It indeed sounds like a classic break tune, a set closer. Everybody gets their little turn to shine, and that's it for a bit. See ya in 15, no 30, make that 45 minutes and a cocktail or two. Or better yet, push play and say hello to Gail Ellen, Uncle Randall, and both JC's once again!
Tom Surowicz
Tom Surowicz regularly writes about music he likes as a freelancer for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.



to write a review

Andrea Canter

Playing “On the Edge”—Jon Pemberton Releases Piano Trio CD
A veteran Twin Cities jazzman renowned for his tributes to Lee Morgan and swinging quintet, the Pembertones, Jon Pemberton finally releases his debut CD. But if you are expecting some high flying trumpeteering, think again. This is a piano trio recording, with Pemberton highlighting his “other” instrument. Although piano was his first instrument, he picked up trumpet at age 11 and earned his degree in trumpet performance at Macalester College. An opportunity to study piano with the late Bobby Peterson rekindled Pemberton’s keyboard talent, and he soon was alternating on his two instruments on his various gigs around the Twin Cities.

On the Edge features Jon on piano with stellar local companions, Gary Raynor on bass and Jay Epstein on drums. Eight original compositions are featured, along with two from Bobby Peterson (to whom the album is dedicated) and a solo cover of “Monk’s Mood.” Tributes abound here, as the inclusion of Peterson’s compositions certainly pays homage to Pemberton’s keyboard mentor. “Gail Ellen” is a gentle, lyrical mid-tempo tune with subtle fireworks from Jay Epstein; “Cool Streams” features elegant lines and interplay between the pianist’s right and left hands, brightening in mood and rhythm as the tune progresses, with vague suggestions of “Night and Day.”

More specific tributes from Pemberton’s pen include “Randall’s Gone,” a sweet ballad dedicated to a favorite uncle who recently passed away, and “One for John Clegg,” the late saxophonist, teacher and AQ patron affectionately known as JC. Here Raynor’s counterpoint is prominent, while Epstein’s cymbal dance is a subtle pacesetter. And there are moments that seem ripe for a good trumpet solo—maybe next outing there will be some overdubs of Jon comping for Jon? “Remembering the Fallen” is dedicated to the victims of the I-35W bridge collapse. Gary provides a solemn bass intro; melodic themes weave tightly in a vein that recalls Abdullah Ibrahim and perhaps reflecting Pemberton’s recent liturgical work as a church music director, as well as the influence of horns in his writing.

Other original compositions offer a diverse palette: The slight jerkiness to the rhythm of the title track pushes it forward as do Raynor’s basslines. The tune settles into a hard bopping, rushed swing built on three repeating chords that put the listener “on the edge.” Both Raynor and Epstein show off their solo chops early. “Liner Notes” is a standard blues form with a percussive Monkish jag to the rhythm. Jay’s solo adds tipsy delights, while Gary walks up and down with authority. While fun to hear, one can also imagine the playful visual exchanges among the trio. It’s one of Jon’s oldest tunes, but carries a timeless quirky joy.

On Jon’s “Power Trip,” Epstein introduces another hard bop jaunt, Pemberton clearly inspired by the likes of Tommy Flanagan and Kenny Barron, while Jay lays out on his own “power trip.” Written for congregational singing during Jon’s tenure at Mercy Seat Lutheran Church, “The Lord’s Prayer” indeed suggests an inaudible lyric, its bluesy, gospel threads and funky groove hardly consistent with the usual Minnesota Lutheran aesthetic. The closing “Break for Zander” references Pemberton’s regular gig at the late Zander Café in St. Paul. And it feels like a closing tune, perhaps the last call of the night, or in tribute to the last night of the café. It’s a boppish swinger showcasing each musician – Raynor on a quick break first, then Epstein, then back to Jon for a few more verses before bass and drums each take a more concentrated solo to set up the finish.

The lone cover is a gem, Jon’s solo run at “Monk’s Mood” with a virtuosic arrangement and delicate blues and even Tatumesque touches. If there was any question that Jon Pemberton is indeed a pianist, here’s the answer.

(Reprinted with permission from www.jazzpolice.com)