Brett Sroka (tb), Avishai Cohen (tp), Aaron Stewart (ts), Jason Moran (p, Fender Rhodes), John Sullivan (b), Eric Harland (d)
Bar code: 8427328421409
Hearsay is an ensemble that navigates the boundaries between composition and improvisation, structure and freedom, soloist and collective. Originally gathered to perform at the 2000 Astoria / Long Island City Waterfront Jazz Festival, Hearsay is the vision of trombonist / composer Brett Sroka but is the fruit of a collective aesthetic.
Though steeped in jazz, the group's influences are as diverse as the world of music itself, performing material by artists like Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder, Ornette Coleman and Bjork. Their main focus however is original composition as displayed on Sroka's debut album "Hearsay". The album features Bluenote pianist Jason Moran and was acclaimed by saxophonist Greg Osby as "one of the best prepared, most conceptually sound presentations that I have heard in some time. Great compositions and a solid group aesthetic."
The groups members also perform with artists such as Roy Haynes, Greg Osby, Charlie Hunter, Dave Douglas, George Garzone and Steve Coleman.
"The leader of the band, trombonist Brett Sroka, handles his instrument with real agility... A sampling of tunes from his new CD, Hearsay, shows he has the smarts to surround himself with the cream of a new crop of jazz players."
-The Casco Bay Weekly
"On his upcoming debut (on Fresh Sound New Talent and featuring Jason Moran), you can hear a bandleader who knows how to balance edgy writing with the "open sky" of jazz improvisation."
-The Boston Phoenix
"This is one of the best prepared, most conceptually sound presentations that I have heard in some time. Great compositions and a solid group aesthetic. With Hearsay Brett Sroka has captured the sound of now."
"...the real weight of the Hearsay performances is on Sroka compositions, which can be both propulsive and oblique. They can swing hard and allow maximum improvisation within a tightly controlled compositional framework; they show a depth of influences and a striking originality."
-The Merrimac River Current
"Keep your eyes and ears open for Brett Sroka, we'll all be hearing a lot more from him in the near future"
"Brett Sroka's trombone moans in alone; the trumpet follows, then the tenor sax. The rhythm section sneaks in there on the sly, and the opener, Duke Ellington's "Hearsay" (from The Deep South Suite), churns into a rumbling, channeled cacophony of Jazz--capitol 'J'.
This is trombonist Brett Sroka's debut, and it bears out liner notes author Gary Sisco's assertion that jazz in the last decade has been experiencing an extroaridnarily fertile and creative period.
Hearsay is an ensemble effort, a sextet--trombone/trumpet/tenor sax front line, piano/bass/drums rhythm--though it may on an initial listen seem denser than that; an octet or more. This is a testament to Sroka's arranging and composing talents. Complex and intricate interplay, ricky but still geometical textures with enough solo slots to bring out the individual personalities of the instrumentalists.
The Ellington opener, almost fourteen minutes worth, is a driving tour de force. These guys shine with a well-justified confidence; but the highlight for this listener is the Sroka-penned "A Sound Caresses the Breast of a Negress". Mingus-onian title, Mingus-onian composition, with high profile pianist Jason Moran--Sroka's former classmate at Manhattan School of Music--switching to the Fender rhodes, giving a a glass wind chime resonance to the rhythm.
Then there's Charlie Shaver's (an underappreciated artist who did his best work in the mid-forties) "Undecided" that opens with Sroka's slow tempo, J.J. Johnson-like trombone solo before the song cranks up the to almost the fever pitch of the trumpeter's 1940's original.
Hearsay is an auspicious debut. With his arranging and compositional skills, and his trombone chops, comparisons to the late Trombone Master, J.J. Johnson are inevitable, and deserved.
-Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz
Fresh Sound's New Talent marque has managed on occasion to spring real surprises, and does so here again. The first impression is of the George Russell Sextet of 1960, and not just because Avi Cohen's rather small-toned but agile trumpet work sounds just like Alan Kiger. It's as much in the measured attitude, the often polyphonic development of and reference back behind the soloists to the material, the sense of a small band rather than simply a combo. Rhythmically too, what the notes refer to as shapeshifting' (often) recalls the way Russell's group could slide out of metre and jump back again. This doesn't imply as a corollary that Sroka is merely a clone of Dave Baker: he doesn't play anywhere near as many notes as Baker often did, but he's got that round, unstrident sound and reminds also of Jimmy Knepper, particularly perhaps on the final Beloved", where it's just him and Harland.
Harland gets Tabula Rasa" pret much to himself, a long workout enclosed by ensemble writing, overall beginning to recall both The Opening" and Death Rolls. The opening Hearsay", an Ellington line I'm not familiar with, has the band opening strongly around Sroka, but starts to drift and begins to run out of steam well before its near-14 minutes is up. The other outside composition, Charlie Shavers' "Undecided", works extremely well, and maybe because it starts from such a familiar point makes very clear how Sroka's backto- the-future conceptualisation has been made to function.
There's a lot less thoughtful records than this one around, and it will be interesting to see how Sroka, should he get further chances, can develop an already clear view of what he wants to do.
-Jack Cooke, Jazz Review (UK), February 2003
"Gary Sisco, who writes the liner notes for Brett Sroka¹s first CD, Hearsay, makes two good points: (1) that the 1990¹s and the new millenium are fertile times for the reinvention of jazz and (2) that jazz education has produced positive results that have advanced the art form. Of course, this is contrary to the conventional wisdom about both topics. The occasion for Sisco¹s observations is the success of the ensemble playing on Hearsay, which Sroka leads as a trombonist but which involves much more than trombone-playing. It involves, yes, Sroka¹s leadership. But also it involves a group of musicians who understand one another and who understand the intentions of Sroka¹s compositions.
The first track, ³Hearsay,² consists merely and ingeniously of the descending notes of an octave in a canon, all of the other horns following Sroka¹s trombone¹s fall until the chorus of notes forms an sonic fullness of a wide timbral range. Interspersing the same falling octave throughout the tune as recurring motive, the members of Sroka¹s group rotate solos, improvising on the suggestions implicit in the pattern.
The next tune, ³Happy-Go-Lucky-Ism,² is based upon the changes of ³Straight, No Chaser,² with Sroka¹s accents and alternations thrown in for punch and cohesiveness. And then ³Tabula Rasa² emerges from Sroka¹s long tones behind trumpeter Avishai Cohen¹s (not to be confused with the bassist) dramatic melody, building up to mid-tune climaxes only to ebb into softness again before drummer Eric Harland¹s extended and thrilling malleted solo. Even ³Undecided,² the only tune not written by Sroka, remains decidedly unconventional, starting with Sroka¹s call to attention on the trombone before he kicks off the tune in a loose and relaxed manner, only to be followed by a double-time section marked by Cohen¹s flowing solo.
The point of Hearsay, though, is the realization of Sroka¹s vision for creating scenes suggestive of various human emotions and experiences through music. And through the professionalism of equally educated and promising artists who share Sroka¹s vision and can help him bring it to life."