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by Martin Johnson
Cover caption: "PLUNGE uproot(s) jazz - have trombone, will
from September's picks:
Bass (end) is the place . . .
It's hard to imagine, but Plunge, a quartet featuring such
stellar players as Bob Moses, Marcus Rojas and Avisha Cohen and the absolutely unique
lineup of, respectively, drums, tuba, bass and leader Mark McGrain's trombone, got started
McGrain had a gig at the Plough and Stars, a Cambridge jazz joint, and
planned to make do with bass and drums when the bassist canceled. Needing a
replacement, McGrain opted for a tuba player. Then at the last minute the bassist
said he could make the gig. So the trio became a quartet.
The book for such a group is, um, not very big, but that didn't daunt
McGrain, who intended to have the rhythm section lay down some grooves and to improvise
melodes atop the mix.
The strategy and format yielded immediate results.
"Something was clicking more than usual," he says. "We didn't
complicate things with a lot of harmonic information." He found that the solid
yet shifting rhythms enabled the group to improvise freely. "We didn't have to
worry about solos. Group improvisations just bubble up."
For McGrain the group marks a return to the music scene. He
graduated from, then taught composition and arranging at, Berklee School of Music in
Boston. Then he spent a year in the corporate world before returning to music mostly
as a composer for jingles and soundtracks. "I didn't play for almost 12
years," he admits.
After regaining his chops he assembled the band. Following the
familiar turnover period (during which some initial members left to join the similarly
subsonic Morphine) he ended up with the present lineup, which recorded the recent Falling
With Grace (on Accurate, Morphine's first label). McGrain's next challenge: to find
regular gigs for the band which don't interfere with the members' other commitments, Rojas
with Henry Threadgill, Cohen with Danilo Perez and Moses with most everyone. But he
isn't sweating it.
"I've written very complicated music over the years," says
the trombonist. "This group is testimony to the virtues of simplicity, and
letting things grow."