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Downbeat Magazine

Dave Lisik Orchestra
Coming Through Slaughter: The Bolden Legend


Hagans steps back to featured soloist for the Dave Lisik Orchestra’s Coming Through Slaughter, a 10-movement suite inspired by Michael Ondaatje’s novel depicting legendary New Orleans cornet player Buddy Bolden. With no extant recordings to draw from, composer/trumpeter Lisik would have been unable to base his music on Bolden’s, and in fact opts not to suggest the period or setting, instead progressing in a decidedly modern, even tense fashion through the drama of Bolden’s tragic life story.


In concentrating so heavily on narrative, Lisik often seems to be striving for a cumulative effect rather than a set of music that stands wholly on its own, akin to a film soundtrack that can be an emotional experience on its own but is still incomplete sans images. There is thus an almost monotonously agitated focus on the dark side of its subject’s history, somewhat compensated for by the strong soloists Lisik enlists—Hagans, of course, whose playing occasionally takes a sidelong glance at Bolden’s New Orleans milieu; Matt Wilson, whose painterly drumming helps immeasurably in setting each scene; and especially Donny McCaslin, whose brawny tenor is particularly well-suited to the harsh curves of the composer’s densest passages. —Shaun Brady


All About Jazz

April 5, 2010

Dave Lisik Orchestra
Coming Through Slaughter: The Bolden Legend

by Jack Bowers

The springboard for this ambitious debut album by Canadian composer Dave Lisik is Michael Ondaatje's novel Coming Through Slaughter, based on the life of the legendary New Orleans cornetist and bon vivant Charles "Buddy" Bolden. Using a modern approach, Lisik strives to renovate musically the threadbare tapestry of a bygone era in which Bolden is purported to have conceived the art form we know as jazz.

How does he fare? Quite well, actually. As with any thematic music, meaning is in the ear of the beholder, especially true when the source is nebulous, as it is in this case. However, using a twenty-five piece big band as his palette, Lisik manages to paint a credible albeit contemporary portrait of Bolden's life and times, his connection to the archaic origins of Jazz, and his gradual descent into madness (Bolden spent the last twenty-four years of his life in mental hospital). In doing so, Lisik leans heavily on the talents of trumpeter Tim Hagans, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, trombonist Luis Bonilla and pianist Amy Rempel as paramount soloists, and on drummer Matt Wilson as the rhythm section's unyielding glue.

The song titles as well are meant to be suggestive, with each track save one based on a brief passage from Ondaatje's book. The exception is "Whistling in the Way of Bolden," whose random dissonance and contrapuntal escalation are designed to exemplify the phrase "ecstasy before death" (or "ecstacy," as it appears thrice in the booklet). As the album advances, the discord becomes more frequent and pronounced, as in the well-named "Horror of Noise," "Suicide of the Hands" or "Parade." While this may prove displeasing to some, it is in keeping with the album's purpose, which is to chronicle Bolden's slide into dementia. Besides Hagans, the soloists on "Noise" include tenors Art Edmaiston and Dustin Laurenzi and baritone Tom Link, who do so simultaneously in the best tradition of unfettered Jazz, as do Hagans, Bonilla and McCaslin on "Suicide." Bolden's depressing odyssey comes to an end in the two-part "Parade," in which the polarizing voices in his head cause him to stop playing in the middle of a parade and simply walk away, never to return. The song ends with an appropriate fade-out by pianist Rempel. The cheerless epilogue, "Bleach Out to Grey," is centered on the single known photograph of Bolden, whose negative (in Ondaatje's novel) is dissolved by the photographer in an acid bath.

Lisik deserves commendation for undertaking such a daunting enterprise, which he first envisioned as a doctoral dissertation in Canada (he has since moved to New Zealand to join the faculty at the New Zealand School of Music). Although one can't know how someone else would have handled the task, Lisik has completed it with flying colors—thanks in part to splendid support from Hagans, McCaslin, Bonilla, Wilson and the ensemble. It must be noted that the album won't suit everyone's taste; it is more cerebral than candid, and its jagged edges can stun the senses and fray the nerves. But Lisik is telling a story, parts of which are ambivalent musically, as they were in life.

Weighed on its own terms, Coming Through Slaughter is a well-drawn and admirable work of art.

Winnipeg Free Press

Monday, February 8, 2010

Trumpeter Inspired by Fellow Horn Man

by Chris Smith

(Photo: Dave Lisik with fellow trumpeter Tim Hagans, has recorded a big band album inspired by a Michael Ondaatje book) Former Winnipegger Dave Lisik combines jazz, history, myth and fiction in his latest project, a big band CD inspired by Michael Ondaatje's fictional look at New Orleans cornet player Buddy Bolden, Coming Through Slaughter. Bolden, who was born in 1876 and died in 1931, was considered one of the best musicians in the Big Easy until he was committed to a mental institution in 1907, where he remained until his death. Helping to fuel his legend is the fact there are no recordings of his playing. Ondaatje's 1976 book draws on what historical record there is, but Lisik, a jazz trumpeter and professor, had no such resource. That turned out to be a good thing, however. The appeal of composing a new work inspired by this particular musician's legend is that he was the only significant figure in jazz who has no recorded music. Creating an even mildly programmatic work based on another musician, whether we're talking about Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong or even Mozart or Beethoven, without using their music as the 'soundtrack' seems counterintuitive," Lisik said by email from Memphis, where he is leaving a teaching position at LeMoyne-Owen College to become the jazz composition professor at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington.

"The improvisational nature of jazz and the short gap between its birth and recording technology places Bolden in a unique position, where a thoroughly modern work could be written without any pressure to produce a historically accurate rendering." The CD, Coming Through Slaughter, The Bolden Legend is a very good big band recording with great musicians such as Tim Hagans (trumpet, flugelhorn), Luis Bonilla (trombone), Donny McCaslin (tenor saxophone) Matt Wilson (drums), and Lisik on trumpet.

Hagans, McCaslin, Bonilla and Wilson "are among my absolute favourite living musicians," Lisik says. "When I looked at assembling the key soloists for the group, they were the first names on my wish list. As I was writing the piece, long before thinking that I would complete this type of recording, Tim Hagan's trumpet playing was the voice of my modern version of Buddy Bolden and the music was shaped in some ways by his sound being present in my conception, long before I asked him to play. "Donny McCaslin is an absolute genius of the tenor and soprano saxophones... I had known Luis Bonilla and Matt Wilson as guest artists at different universities and had written some music for Luis. Luis is almost without peer as a trombone player and Matt is one of the most creative musicians I have ever met. "Fortunately for me, they were all interested enough in the idea of the project to commit to it with very little idea of what they were in for," Lisik adds. Six of the 10 movements were originally written for Lisik's doctoral dissertation in the spring of 2006. The final version was recorded last spring. Among quintet recordings he has planned, he is also working on a collection of movements for a piece commemorating the anniversary of Darwin's Origin of Species that will be a jazz orchestra project set for a fall 2011 release. Lisik takes up his post as jazz composition professor in Wellington on March 1, "which is my 36th birthday and will seem like a great gift!"




Memphis Commercial Appeal

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Memphis musician-educator channels jazz pioneer for new CD

by Bob Mehr

At 35 years old, Dave Lisik is a relatively young man, but he’s “composing” history all the same. The trumpeter and music educator has been an active presence on the Bluff City jazz scene since arriving in town in 2003, as a longtime member of the Memphis Jazz Orchestra and leader of his own Dave Lisik Quartet. Last week, Lisik released an ambitious new CD under his Dave Lisik Orchestra banner. It’s a conceptual affair called Coming Through Slaughter: The Bolden Legend, and for Lisik the disc represents the culmination a five-year creative journey and the end of his time in Memphis. A Winnipeg, Canada, native, the well-traveled Lisik attended University of Mary in North Dakota and got his master’s degree at the University of Northern Iowa. After teaching high school jazz band back in Canada for five years, he decided to attend the University of Memphis to finish his doctorate. “The culmination of that process is the dissertation. And as a composition major with a jazz emphasis, it meant that I needed a project that was new in some sort of sense,” says Lisik. “It had to be an original composition. And I thought it’d be more interesting to find a concept, something that could be the inspiration for a piece.” Lisik found that inspiration in a gift he’d been given upon leaving Canada, a copy of Michael Ondaatje’s “Coming Through Slaughter,” a fictionalized history about the legendary, almost mythical New Orleans jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden.

A turn-of-the-century Crescent City bandleader, Charles “Buddy” Bolden was one of the avatars of a brand of improvised music that would become known as jazz. Before he could be widely recognized or even recorded, Bolden’s mental health deteriorated, and he was committed to an institution in 1907 where he eventually died.

Although rumors of Bolden sessions have circulated, none of his recorded work has ever been discovered. Out of this mystery and vacuum, Lisik saw an opportunity to create something compelling. “Buddy Bolden was the only jazz musician in history who doesn’t have his own soundtrack, per se. And so if you think about doing an original project about Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie or John Coltrane, or any other musician, it’s almost like making the Mozart ‘‘Amadeus’’ movie but hiring John Williams to write the soundtrack,” says Lisik, laughing. “You’re not going to compose new music for a Mozart movie or a Beethoven movie.

“But the situation with Bolden allowed me to be freer and write a modern piece without trampling over any existing music,” he adds. “I was able to be more abstract.”

Lisik soon began writing a concept piece about Bolden, largely inspired by the Ondaatje book. It was successful enough that it helped him earn his doctor of musical arts degree in 2006. Lisik then began teaching at LeMoyne-Owen College, and decided to bring the composition to life.

He completed writing a full 10-movement Bolden piece, and set himself up with a mobile studio and began recording at various locations in Memphis, Indiana and New York.

The project drew sufficient interest in jazz circles that Lisik was able to secure the services of a who’s who of musicians, such as New York drummer Matt Wilson, horn heavyweights including trombonist Luis Bonilla, sax man Donny McCaslin and featured trumpeter Tim Hagans, a respected hard bop blower and veteran of Stan Kenton and Woody Herman’s bands. “When I was writing the piece, I was actually imagining Tim Hagans playing it. But the idea that I could actually get him to record it didn’t seem a reality at that point. In the end, I was lucky enough to get him and a number of other great players.” This past week — five years after he first hatched the idea — Lisik put out Coming Through Slaughter on his own Galloping Cow Music label. But the disc’s release also closes Lisik’s career in Memphis. In a few weeks, Lisik will head down under, to begin a new job teaching at the New Zealand School of Music. 

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