Oscar Utterstorm: Departure Review
Very little about Oscar Utterstrom could be described as predictable, beginning with the fact that he plays electric trombone. So the Sweden-born graduate of the Berklee College of Music — who moved to Nashville, of all places, and earned his masters at Middle Tennessee State University — bringing back the bulk of the cast from his debut CD Home qualifies as the only expected aspect of his sophomore effort, Departure.
Utterstrom wrote or co-wrote all of the disc’s nine tracks, and like many European jazz composers, he’s often less constrained by tradition than his American counterparts. The opening cut, Snow, mixes his silky trombone passages with the distorted electric guitar of Adam Agati amid the techno-tinged rhythms of bassist Russell Wright and drummer Justin Amaral, all augmented by the tenor saxophone of Jody Dale Douglas and samples by turntable artist Black Cat Sylvester.
Gratitude slows the pace and ups the traditional jazz quotient through Amaral’s brushwork and the brass section of Utterstrom (on both trombone and bass trumpet) and tuba player Neil Konouchi, and the building piece features a stellar, mostly clean-toned solo by Agati. Utterstrom adds euphonium and bass trombone to the atmospheric prelude of the two-part Departure, which morphs into an experimental, mid-tempo mix of jazz and hip-hop through the work of Sylvester and rapper Bobby Exodus in the main section.
Vocalist and Indian flutist Hari Haran brings a Middle Eastern presence to the two-part Rain. A lengthy piece that slips between 4/4 and 6/8 time, with swirls of Agati’s effective sitar mimicry, the trombonist’s somber tones, and the rhythm section’s ability to downshift from techno to taciturn, it also features the backing vocals of Christina Watson and the versatile Utterstrom.
Tenor saxophonist Chris West brings the jazz element to Ego, otherwise a strutting piece featuring ample programming, the band leader’s treated trombone, an effects-laden solo by Wright, and an over-the-top rap by Exodus for irony. Right Turn Records label mate Watson returns to lend a gorgeous lead vocal to the ballad Movin’ On, augmented by Agati’s wistful tones, and Utterstrom adds organ and programming to his ledger on the brief closing soundscape, Eternal Being (postlude).
Produced by Sylvester and Jason Andrews, who both did the bulk of the CD’s programming, and recorded at Good Dog Studio in Nashville, the aptly-titled Departure may be the most unlikely jazz/rock/rap/techno release ever to emerge from the clutches of Music City’s largely country-and-bluegrass atmosphere. At least until Utterstrom’s next CD.
Oscar Utterstrom (electric trombone, bass trumpet, euphonium, bass trombone, organ, programming, vocals)
Black Cat Sylvester (turntables, programming)
Adam Agati (guitar)
Russell Wright (bass)
Justin Amaral (drums)
Bobby Exodus (vocals)
Christina Watson (vocals)
Hari Haran (vocals, Indian flute)
Chris West (tenor saxophone)
Jody Dale Douglas (tenor saxophone)
Neil Konouchi (tuba)
3. Departure (prelude)
5. Rain pt. I
6. Rain pt. II
8. Movin’ On
9. Eternal Being (postlude)