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Drummer Jared Schonig showcases his compositions on stunning two-disc debut 

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At its core, jazz is about reimagining music. Standards are constantly reinterpreted, and every improvised solo is a new flight over the chords of a song. Some of the greatest reimagined music lies in big band arrangements that can lift tunes to orchestral heights.

It’s that spirit of reinvention that animates “Two Takes,” the superb debut project by drummer Jared Schonig, an Eastman School of Music graduate. The first disc features eight originals played by Schonig’s first-rate quintet, which includes Marquis Hill on trumpet, Louis Perdomo on keyboards, saxophonist Godwin Louis, and bassist Matt Clohesy. With every player contributing wonderful solos to Schonig’s challenging compositions, “Volume 1” would constitute an excellent album on its own.

But “Volume 2” takes it a giant step farther, with eight top arrangers reimagining the same tunes for big band. “Two Takes” is an unusually ambitious undertaking, beautifully realized. If it were released by a well-known jazz luminary, it would be a prime candidate for album of the year.

On “Two Takes,” Schonig unintentionally highlights the strength of Eastman’s jazz program over the decades; seven of the project’s 30 musicians graduated from ESM.
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While the two discs showcase Schonig’s prowess as a composer, the intro to the first track, “White Out,” reminds us of his excellence on the drums. On this intro, three interludes, and solos on the quintet’s “Nuts” and the big band’s “Sabotage,” he subtly explores the rich vocabulary of his instrument, rather than show off with pyrotechnics.

“Gibbs St.,” Schonig’s homage to ESM, is nicely evocative of downtown Rochester’s cultural hub. Brian Krock’s arrangement fleshes out the aural images with help from imaginative solos by saxophonist Donny McCaslin and Ike Sturm.

“Sabotage,” arranged by Alan Ferber, is the closest the album gets to pure funk.

“Sound Evidence” is built on a deceptively simple three-note phrase. Arranger Miho Hazama takes advantage of this almost model compositional structure, and so do the soloists — trombonist Marshall Gilkes, trumpeter Jonathan Powell, and guitarist Nir Felder, who is off the charts in his rock fusion flight.

Ron Netsky is a contributing writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to
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