"Tenor Centric Universe"
Steven Golub and Uncharted Territory
Steven Golub, tenor saxophone
Frank Barbera, piano
Steve Fishman, guitar (Tracks 4, 7, 9 & 11)
Frank Rosati, acoustic bass
Andy O’Neill, drums
Produced by Steven Golub
Arrangements by Frank Barbera
Recorded at THI Studios, Brooklyn, New York, June 25 (Tracks 2, 5, 7, 8 & 10) , June 27 (Tracks 4, 6, 9 & 11) and June 29 (Tracks 1 & 3), 2012
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Robert Honablue
Liner notes by Dr. Kent Robertshaw
Album cover design by Steven Golub
(1) Education 5:05
(2) Hidden Cost of Friendship 6:37
(3) Tenor Centric Universe 6:55
(4) Country Club Living 6:34
(5) Theme for Hans 6:58
(6) Side Bone Blues 6:48
(7) Alpha Males 9:00
(8) Goodbye Uncle Dick 6:51
(9) Wine Dance 7:03
(10) Festival 6:24
(11) Freshman Year 5:50
All compositions written by Steven M. Golub except for “Wine Dance” and “Theme for Hans” which were co-written by Steven M. Golub and Robert Kairis.
Copyright 2012. Steven M. Golub. All rights reserved.
Steven Golub and Uncharted Territory
Every now and then, throughout the history of jazz, an instrumentalist has emerged, with a voice that is so that is so distinctive, original and moving, that listeners are at first startled, and yet eventually, come to accept and then demand from others, the new standard that has been set by the innovator. Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane each that this quality - their novel sound was unique and forever changed the landscape of jazz. Each of these pioneers had the courage to take risks and play what they felt - the sound that came naturally to them - rather than adhere to the conventions of their respective times and environments. Their legacy was their sound. How, when and where such talents emerge is perhaps the greatest of all mysteries of jazz. There is no simple answer. More importantly, when such a voice emerges, one must hope that its presence will be recognized, no matter how circuitous its path to public recognition. Tenor saxophonist Steven Golub, leader of a progressive jazz group “Uncharted Territory,” with his debut album “Tenor Centric Universe,” is a performer and composer, whose eclectic style on his instrument, displayed in the context of diverse original compositions, adds a unique voice to the jazz lexicon, that defies categorization. Whether that voice will ever rise to the level of the giants who constitute the pantheon of jazz greats, is doubtful, as the world today is a very different place from that which existed when the icons roamed the planet and jazz is, for lack of a better word, now a more “mature” art form. At a minimum, however, one can only hope that with the release of this album, Golub’s unique voice on the tenor saxophone will be appreciated by a wider audience.
This album, includes eleven original compositions penned by Mr. Golub, spanning multiple genres within the broader jazz context and is a showcase for his remarkable versatility as a tenor saxophonist. Although his debut, this album also, spans the entire period of his growth as a jazz musician, from the swinging bop piece “Education,” written while he was a high school student back, to the more recent “Alpha Males,” composed in the fall of 2011. These pieces, and the others that were written between them, capture the creative essence of a unique talent, with a distinctive and readily identifiable sound.
Ask many veteran jazz players, what the biggest shortcoming they find in the multitude of highly technically proficient musicians who graduate each year from the ever expanding universe of “formal” jazz studies programs, and they will tell you that it is a lack of individuality and personality in the players sound - an inability to find their own “voice.” That is certainly not the case with Steven Golub, his sound is both distinctive and moving; it is truly a vox humana. In each of his solos, you hear the unique voice of a largely self-taught musician- who did not attend a conservatory. In his playing, you hear the sound of someone who never consciously tried to develop a “commercially” appealing style. Instead, you hear a man whose sole objective was to play the best that he could - within the jazz context - sort of like the fictional architect Howard Rourke in the classic Ayn Rand novel, “The Fountainhead,” regardless of commercial considerations. Golub has never been willing to “sell out” musically and adapt his style of playing, in order to arrive at a more “conventional” style - and therefore avoided the bane of many a budding jazz musician, who systematically had his vitality and creativity sapped, as a result of being forced to conform to the requirements of playing in wedding and “club date” bands and the like.
Steven Golub’s eclectic style on the tenor saxophone spans the full history of the instrument – yet adds a distinctive and original voice to the list of great saxophonists who preceded him. With a big, full sound, dark, robust tone and tremendous range spanning nearly five octaves, one can hear the influence of the players who inspired him and helped shape his unique style. In addition to the influence of well-known giants of the saxophone including John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Michael Brecker and George Adams, in his articulation, one can also hear the influence of great blues, R&B and soul vocalists, such as Sam Cook, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, David Ruffin and the not well-known Moe Holmes. This ultimately, is the hallmark of his playing; an ability to combine a lyrical, thematic approach to phrasing and articulation, with high energy, technically challenging playing - in a way designed to instill the utmost individuality and personality into everything he plays. The ability to utilize his prodigious technique and virtuosity in a way that does not sound overtly “mechanical,” but instead, sounds melodic and lyrical, with lots of, for lack of a better word, “soul.”
Steven Golub has, humorously, been referred to by some of the listeners who have been fortunate to see him perform in person, as the “greatest saxophonist you NEVER heard of,” and after listening to this album, you may indeed find that to be the case. On this album, what you hear is a man playing everything from lush ballads, to intense “squealing,” that almost has a “primal scream” quality to it - and yet never loses an essential hard-driving, swinging quality. Golub utilizes a variety of harmonic devises, in an unpredictable manner, that defies categorization and avoids the use of clichés and patterns that are the “stock and trade” of many formally trained jazz players vocabulary. In his solos, Golub often achieves what could be called the “holy grail” of all jazz soloists, an ability to integrate both “in” and “out” playing in a cohesive fashion, that enables him to achieve maximum expressiveness, yet retain a connection to and respect for the structure, form and melody of the tune in which the solo is played. His solos epitomize the “state of the art” in jazz improvisation and saxophone technique; pushing at the cutting edge while at the same time drawing upon the rich heritage of the jazz tenor saxophone and at all times, retaining a very vocal and lyrical quality. Among the hallmarks of his versatile style are rapid facility over a five octave range, the use of a wealth of scales, chords and melodic patterns, the ability to juxtapose multiple styles, varied tones and timbres, from a “clean” to a “growl” tone, selected use of vibrato, tremendous dynamic and tonal range, a range of attack and articulations, advanced rhythmic patterns and syncopation, the use of concepts such as acceleration, quickly transitioning from slow to complex, lightning-fast passages, along with variable, irregular and otherwise unpredictable phrasing, internal “call and response,” frequent use of trills, glissandos, pitch perfect bending of notes and multiphonics, and a mastery of tension and release, all in a strongly swinging fashion, that enables Golub to achieve a level of passion and excitement in his playing, that has rarely ever been seen before, to such a degree. Yet, despite commanding so much technique, his use of his “monster chops” is never forced. Instead, each of his solos is a highly creative, lyrical masterpiece, thematically linked to the underlying melody, with an appropriate level of technique involved, in order to fully express the mood which the underlying composition is capable of conveying.
In the band Uncharted Territory’s promotional materials, they like to say that they play “everything from smooth jazz to free jazz, with a heavy dose of the blues and funk thrown in for good measure,” – and it is really true. The name for the band, “Uncharted Territory,” originally was conceived as a description of the fact that the group would be playing never heard before original music, but also, would be featuring solos that pushed the boundaries of conventional technique, playing and capability on the saxophone. Uncharted Territory, therefore, sets a very high standard, which I believe this album lives up to.
In producing this album, Steven Golub was fortunate to have been able to draw upon the talents of the veteran recording engineer and mastering expert, Robert Honablue, now the director of the Honablue Institute of Recording Engineering as well the head of THI Studios. In addition to having had a longstanding working relationship with George Benson and having recorded and mastered many of his albums, Mr. Honablue’s storied career has included work with countless legendary jazz and pop musicians, including work on seminal jazz records including Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” album and the remastering of Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out” album.
Although the clear focus of this album is to display Steven Golub’s diverse talents as a tenor saxophonist, it is also the showcase of the diversity of Golub’s talents as a composer of jazz tunes. The opening selection, the up-tempo bop piece, “Education,” was written while he was in high school and in the introductory passage mimics the sounds of a beginner student learning to play the instrument, including a multiphonic note that could be confused with a gurgle, before transitioning into a smoking hard bop piece. Golub is joined in the introduction by acoustic bassist, Frank Rosati, who adds solid, if not understated, swinging bass line to all of the pieces on this album. “The Hidden Cost of Friendship,” is a pleasant bossa nova piece that is Golub’s tribute to the great tenor players, Stan Getz and Joe Henderson, each of whom made a significant contribution to the bossa nova, jazz genre. It features an elegant introduction and solo by pianist Frank Barbera, the arranger of many of the pieces on this album, whose eclectic influences include such diverse musicians as Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Pat Metheny and Johann Sebastian Bach. “County Club Living,” a “retro” piece, is a nice contemporary example of the acoustic jazz fusion that was popular in 1970s, before the advent of the slick and more emotionally watered-down, electric, “smooth jazz” fusion, that is prevalent today. Although the melody is arguably the album’s most “commercial” sounding piece, if that is even possible for a player such as Golub, it is also the vehicle for expressive solos by Golub and by guitarist Steve Fishman, a graduate of the New England Conservatory, who has backed a number of great players including Jack McDuff, Arthur Prysock and Jaki Byard and helps bring out yet another dimension to their respective playing. The haunting “Theme for Hans,” co-written with his childhood friend Robert Kairis, has been facetiously explained by Golub as the theme for a yet to be produced movie. It demonstrates a very dark and emotionally revealing side of Golub’s playing, that shows the influence of great jazz balladeers who preceded him, such as Dexter Gordon, Lester Young, Gene Ammons and Ben Webster and features a superb introduction by Frank Barbera. “Goodbye Uncle Dick,” written as a tribute to an uncle who played the trumpet, and who Golub, likes to joke was “the only person in my family who encouraged me to pursue a career in music,” features a dramatic melody that hints at the influence of Eastern European music on Golub. The delightful Latin piece “Wine Dance,” also co-written with Robert Kairis, invites comparisons to the great Latin infused jazz of the 1970s, popularized by artists such as Chick Corea, and features another fine solo by Steve Fishman. The closing selection, “Freshman Year,” fittingly written while Golub was a freshman in college, is a calypso style piece that is his tribute to tenor giant Sonny Rollins, who had a large influence on him at that time.
The album features a couple of pieces that could be broadly categorized as blues, yet each in a very different way. Perhaps, more than anything else, this is the hallmark of “Uncharted Territory’s” sound, an ability to integrate a soulful “bluesiness” into a more sophisticated jazz diction. “Side Bone Blues,” is a “raunchy,” powerful, and raw blues piece that evokes a combination of the classic tenor saxophone-organ trio sound of the 1960s, along with the classic hard-bop sounds of groups from the 1950s and 1960s, such as Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. It also shows the influence of the late great, under-appreciated master of jazz blues saxophone playing, George Adams, on Golub’s playing. “Festival,” is a laid-back, minor blues that draws comparisons to the classic John Coltrane piece, “Equinox,” and Stanley Turrentine’s hit, “Sugar.” In both these pieces, Golub’s formidable “blues chops,” can be heard, in a jazz setting.
Although this album is not a pure “free jazz” album, in the sense that all of the material is based on set tunes, with melodies juxtaposed on top of chord progressions, within the framework of a song, a number of the pieces feature saxophone and drum duets, that are clearly “free,” in the creative sense, yet honor the structure of the melody in which is they are found. After hearing the melody and saxophone and piano solos played over chord changes, we then hear a subsequent duo between Golub and the equally creative drummer, Andy O’Neill, who in addition to being a driving and swinging drummer, able to extract the subtle rhythmic essence of each piece, is also a formidable soloist with a fertile imagination to match that of Golub. Mr. O’Neill has played with a number of notable jazz musicians including Wynton Marsalis and Bob Mintzer. In each of these pieces, pianist Frank Barbera, tastefully lays out the chord changes that serve as the bedrock foundation for the solos and also enables the group to seamlessly transition into the “free” passages. “Education” and “Festival,” both feature such duets, as does the hard driving “Alpha Males,” an interesting melody that shows the influence of Charles Mingus in that it mixes a number of stylistically different themes within a single melody. Which brings us to the title piece, “Tenor Centric Universe.” In his live performances, Golub likes to explain to the audience, tongue in cheek, that to him, the “Tenor Centric Universe,” is “an ideal, hypothetical parallel universe in which jazz is a popular music and the tenor saxophonists are the ‘rock stars’ of that universe.” Need I say any more. As expected, this intense tune is the vehicle for some of the most aggressive and exploratory soloing by Golub on this album - one where he truly seeks to travel to Uncharted Territory and also features an inspiring duet between drummer Andy O’Neill and Golub.
So there you have it. In this album, we have a diverse collection of musical pieces by a tenor saxophonist and composer who arguably may well be the “greatest saxophonist you NEVER heard of!”
Dr. Kent Robertshaw