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NPR/PRI's Monitor Radio

by Norman Weinstein

    Think of jazz ensembles, the kind you can hear on many public radio stations, and what comes to mind?  A trumpet, a piano, a saxophone, probably a clarinet, maybe an electric guitar.  Well, Plunge may be the only jazz band on record consisting of a trombonist, a bassist, a drummer, and a tuba player.  This unusual instrumentation especially stands out in the group's new album "Falling With Grace".  Music critic Norman Weinstein listens to a lot of jazz and he thinks "Falling With Grace" is the freshest album of it's type that he's heard this year.

Norman Weinstein:
    Plunge opens their CD with the rowdy sounds of a New Orleans brass band playing after hours, having a blast playing outside of the boundaries of traditional Crescent City Jazz.  The shuffle, performed by veteran drummer Bob Moses, may bring to mind an image of an old time brass band marching along Bourbon Street but the interplay among Plunge's leader, trombonist, and composer Mark McGrain, tuba man Marcus Rojas, and bassist Avishai Cohen is anything but traditional.  Old fashion brass bands depend on trumpets or cornets to introduce a song's melody then the melody is embellished by clarinets and saxes and then eventually trombones.  Tubas are expected to keep a steady bass line going as the drums propel the band forward.  Now, imagine eliminating trumpets, saxes, and clarinets from this brass band formula, doubling the bass instrumentation but also allowing the low tones of an upright bass and tuba to come forward as front line melodic instruments.  And think of a song book light years beyond the usual marches and dirges found in brass ensembles, this is the essence of the Plunge sound.  If you're looking for jazz that'll make you smile brace yourself for "Dog", the band's tribute to a noisy mutt.  Or, are you hungry for a fresh sounding synthesis of lilting Caribbean styles and jazz, swinging revisions of reggaes and calypsos; laid back beats?  McGrain and Rojas are masters of versatility, making their horns sweetly croon or convulsively bark and bray, shifting gears easily between tonality and atonality, jazz and pop.  Moses and Cohen establish a rhythmic foundation full of surprising jolts egging the horn men to play with an exhilarating sense of freedom.  "It Don't Mean a Thing If it Ain't Got That Swing" was a favorite Duke Ellington song and article of faith and if you listen carefully to the opening tune on this Plunge CD, with it's playful variations on that Ellington song, you'll hear how this brassy band keeps the Duke's faith swingingly alive.



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