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Sotto Voce Press Quotes


ROY NATHANSON Sotto Voce  [AUM Fidelity (AUM037)]



"Here's a resounding welcome back for Nathanson, whose Sotto Voce brims with a bemused exuberance and bubbles with a strange brew of spoken word, song and improvisation. Sotto Voce functions as a hip, lyrical variety show that that at turns gets boisterous with instrumental soaring (snaky sax lines, Curtis Fowlkes' trombone slithers, violinist Sam Bardfeld's klesmer-shaded phrasings) and energized by the hip-hop and doo-wop-infused vocal of Napoleon Maddox. Tunes range from Nathanson originals (the playful but poignant "By The Page" and the melodic beauty "Home") to covers like the new-grooved rendering of Bobby Hebb's 1966 soul hit "Sunny." Like Nathanson's spirited projects with the Jazz Passengers, which he and Fowlkes co-founded in 1987, Sotto Voce is jazz that stretches the art form."



"With superb arrangements and inspired playing, the ironically-titled Sotto Voce is nuts and an absolute gem."



"Utilizing a wicked combination of instrumental and vocal counterpoint, rich vocal harmonies, passionate instrumental cadenzas and collective improvisation, this is intimate ensemble music of a highly advanced but conceptually playful nature. Equal parts carnival excess, vaudeville showmanship and Tin Pan Alley smarts, Sotto Voce finds Nathanson and company delivering what may be the year's most unusual and intriguing album."



"The eclectic alto and soprano saxophonist and his four-man band do all the singing themselves [here], as they meld stories and poems into wonderfully skewed songs that are equal parts jazz, hip-hop, doo-wop, funk and pop. Sotto Voce delights regardless of whether you recognize the musical reference points it so smartly salutes and subverts."



"Poetic narratives are [this] boho conceptualist's strong suit. On the new Sotto Voce he recalls everything from his dad's monetary method of boosting the family's spellings skills to the one-world spirituality he watched unfold in a London tube station. The marvelous blend of sax, violin, bass 'n' bone helps vivify the tales and vice versa."


“Saxophonist Roy Nathanson, a longtime member of the Jazz Passengers, has discovered an even more personal avenue for imaginative arrangements in Sotto Voce, where he magically transforms the personal into the universal. Band members including Curtis Fowlkes (trombone) and Jerome Harris (guitar) also contribute vocals to Nathanson's witty, theatrical word jazz”



"Sotto Voce, the new recording by the saxophonist Roy Nathanson, makes full use of his unusual skills as a conceptualist and raconteur. All of the members of his band double on vocals, occasionally suggesting a literate and subversive barbershop quartet."



"On the new Sotto Voce, head Jazz Passenger Roy Nathanson's [new quintet] serves up jazz as one part theater, one part radio play. Nathanson puts it all across like an ace monologist who just happens to be a great bandleader."



"His best pop/jazz/monologue album to date. Sotto Voce showcases the best of Nathanson's considerable talent - as an arranger, a lyricist, a narrator, and, in no small part, a great saxophonist."



Honorable Mention: "Narrative with jazz, jazz as narrative.



"For his latest project, Nathanson alternates between his gruff storytelling voice and his mellifluous sound on alto sax to spin tales that feel both familiar and strange."



4 Stars review: "Roy Nathanson's eccentric group was an unexpected highlight of last November's  London Jazz Festival. .. ingenious arrangements .. All the numbers are imbued with jazz feeling, but they use even-quaver rhythms that put them closer to Tom Waits or off-Broadway theatrics."


EXCLAIM! - Canada's Music Authority

Sotto Voce is another stimulating mix of the possibilities for instruments and voices within jazz, coming from someone who has done this sort of thing throughout his career. Sotto Voce is high concept the whole way through, but a well executed one. It is a vocal project through and through with each of the five members of the ensemble vocalising and the drum chair filled by the beatboxing of Napoleon Maddox. Nathanson is the narrator, with a delivery somewhere between Jack Kerouac and Shel Silverstein. The music is tough to summarise. Just as many horn players say that a group without a piano provides them more harmonic freedom, so too does the beatboxing provide more sonic and rhythmic room, which helps maintain the space required for five vocalists. The scope of the material is wide: Roland Kirk’s “The Inflated Tear” gets retrofitted with lyrics, and there’s a funky take on “Sunny,” and a version of “Sunrise Sunset” that rises above schmaltz. There’s some corny humour in the lyrics, but the abstraction in the sax/violin/trombone arrangements and the always inventive “freeboxing” always wins out in the end. A highly unusual but successful effort.


Quotes from ELVIS COSTELLO on The Album:

"Sotto Voce is Roy's most confidential recording. "Home" is his most lovely theme and the album contains his most emotional playing and storytelling to date. The wonderful adaptation of Roland Kirk's "The Inflated Tear" exists in the small delightful distance between the spoken and singing voice".


"In a world of useless shouting things, Roy Nathanson's Sotto Voce is sane, funny, beautiful and intimate" 


Independent, London

Gateshead International Jazz Festival, The Sage, Gateshead


The great and the good of Stateside get the best out of Tyneside

Reviewed by Philip Johnson

Sunday, 3 April 2011


But US Five, for all that, was still only music. The Gateshead International Jazz Festival's grand education project, Subway Moon, must have been a life-changing experience for its participants. Fronted by The Jazz Passengers, who had opened the festival with Deborah Harry on vocals, 25 schoolkids from New York collaborated with their Tyneside peers to produce an audio-visual song cycle on the theme of the subway (or the Metro as it is up here), conceived and composed by saxophonist-poet Roy Nathanson. The material included samples of Allen Ginsberg reading "Kaddish" as the voice of a cantor boomed from the back of a hall in a threnody for Nathanson's dead brother, while Napoleon Maddox beat-boxed, and Geordie rapper Rick Fury rhymed "dole" with "Greggs' sausage roll". It was the most inspiring performance I've seen for years.


John Robinson

Gateshead International Jazz Festival, Gateshead


Roy Nathanson.

On an ambitious weekender including Cleo Laine, Joe Lovano and Iain Ballamy, plus genre-crunching Mercury nominees Led Bib, the Subway Moon project still stands out, a community venture promising much more than just a knees-up for the local citizenry. Conceived and directed by New York composer-saxist Roy Nathanson, it's a vehicle for rappers, singers, beatboxers and jazz musicians from Tyneside and New York, sharing experiences of inner-city living. The Sage's CoMusica students sent Nathanson a series of Tyneside-inspired songs, and this hip and adventurous jazz improviser boldly broadened the canvas for them. Subway Moon now features Nathanson's Sotto Voce group, 25 New York students, and the Sage's youth band, Jambone, on 90 minutes of music and visuals including what Nathanson calls "an ode to the survival instincts of a New York city rat … which of course has great rat footage."


Press about the book “Subway Moon”

Jazz times

Roy Nathanson
Subway Moon


By Brian Gilmore


Subway Moon, saxophonist’s Roy Nathanson’s very engaging collection of poetry, begins in German. You will be taken a back by it at first if you don’t understand the language, but don’t fret; Nathanson’s accessible verse is forthcoming, Or as Jeff Friedman notes in the Introduction to this collection: Roy Nathanson “scores silence with words and words with silence.” This is an obvious music connection meaning. Nathanson’s poetry is music, in other words; and I suspect, his music is poetry.

Nathanson’s biggest strength as musician-poet is he takes the word seriously which is not always the case with musicians who write verse. One of the gems from the collection, “sound system” is evidence of Nathanson’s attention to craft: …Mud and shit fly/through the walls/of the day/spitting the plaster and odd bits of brain cells/ onto the mixing board.” Throughout, Nathanson is not afraid of the personal either and the political, the music of life, and the times that he is living. “extra: bombs over lebanon again” captures this sentiment when he shouts quietly the following: “Truth is nothing shines today.”

And then there is the epic, “father’s day” which brings this fine collection to an end: “…my father was not a great man, not even necessarily a good man…” Nathanson writes. This is the honestly of Nathanson’s work again that he expresses proudly in “subway moon,” a book that is a journey into music and the vision of a man.


All about jazz


Jakob Baekgaard


Subway Moon 

Roy Nathanson 

Soft cover; 134 pages 

ISBN 978-3-00-025376-8 

Buddy's Knife 


Poetry, like music, is about movement. Both art forms move from one note, or word, to another, trying to catch the essence of the moment. Saxophonist and composer Roy Nathanson has long worked with both words and music, sometimes uniting the two as he did on Sotto Voce (Aum Fidelity, 2006). Subway Moon, however, represents the first comprehensive overview of Nathanson's work as a poet.

The work derives much of its fascination from the New York City subway. The poems are written on the trains, while moving from one station to another. Like music, they carry the imprint of improvisation, occasionally referencing jazz musicians, as in the opening poem, "Saxophones": "Lying together under really old stars / we often tell things that already happened / We hope Billie and Lester / Will rent us rooms that won't be raided / that their silver spoons will cover our eyes / park the bones of our uniforms."

It's no coincidence that Nathanson references singer Billie Holiday and tenor saxophonist Lester Young. The tone of his poems isn't the easy swing of clarinetist Benny Goodman, but the blues of Holiday and Young. Through words, Nathanson observes the life around him with a bittersweet gentleness, as when he zooms in on one of the passengers in the train in "Subway Noah": "Two eyes glazed / Two earphones plugged in / Two brown hands / clutching white tissues / between pink knuckles / around sleek silver pole."

"Subway Noah" portrays the modern ark of humanity where lack of communication and silent distance is the rule. Nathanson's project, like a Trojan horse, is to break through the silence with words of wisdom and a cry for compassion. While the setting is formally limited to the subway, the poet's words float across time and space, past and present. There's also a touch of political satire in "Dear Karl," a poem written for Karl Rove. But Nathanson never falls into the pitfalls of preaching, there's a healthy dose of self-irony underneath the political message: "Look, Karl, I'm over here by the blue house / sipping tea from the cup with the self-evident truths."

Nathanson is a political writer in the sense that he writes about the world around him, a world that also includes war and terror. The most important source of the poems, however, comes from the poet's own life. Interspersed between reflections on music, politics and every-day life come a handful of poems linked to childhood and memory. One of the best of these is "My Successive Deaths," lamenting the passing of Nathanson's brother, mother and father, with the third stanza devoted to the father: "We played 'Someone to Watch Over Me' as his breath seeped from his tenor / Cool air blew the past down the hall / past my baby's rosy cheeks, right / into these dulled bones that dance this new life." The father's death is treated more extensively in the last section of the book, a prose memoir called "Father's Day," which describes in heartbreaking detail the father's slow decline through Alzheimer's disease.

Subway Moon is a book that isn't afraid to address the darker aspects of life, but it does so in uplifting way; it's a blues howl written in words as sensitive to sound as music. A work filled with compassion and hope but also with a degree of quiet despair.


Press Quotes on “Reunited” The Jazz Passengers


"If their goal is to make jazz music interesting and unpredictable, they’ve achieved it."

-Jade Blackmore, BlogCritics


"It’s the musical equivalent of a Cubist painting, taking elements and rearranging them in unusual and sometimes grating juxtapositions."

-Jade Blackmore, BlogCritics


"And therein lies the beauty of this band, where humor comingles with a serious love for the music."

-Mike Shanley, JazzTimes


"In the 1990s, Blondie’s Debbie Harry performed and recorded as part of the giddily unclassifiable, quasi-vaudevillian Jazz Passengers."


"This magic can only exist when musicians enjoy a nearly indescribable intuition, coupled with the cohesiveness that comes with longevity. "

-James McQuiston,


"At its root, this jazz is fun and easy to love. "

-Jen Hoyer, See Magazine


"Picking up where they left off, this vivacious studio session juxtaposes mellifluous crooning, adventurous post-bop and stylistic eclecticism with irrepressible charm and sophisticated humor."

-Troy Collins, All About Jazz


"Featuring the return of guitarist Marc Ribot and guest appearances by Elvis Costello and Deborah Harry, Reunited recalls the Jazz Passengers Knitting Factory-era heyday, when their insouciant blend of absurdity and virtuosity provided a "real" jazz alternative for those raised on a steady diet of Lower East Side noise from luminaries like Arto Lindsay and John Zorn."

-Troy Collins, All About Jazz


"Given that jazz can easily slip into the realm of the too serious, the return of the Jazz Passengers with their gonzo attitude and slightly off-kilter tunes is to be celebrated."

-David Kunian, Offbeat


"Jazz has always had satirists, but the members of New York's Jazz Passengers are particularly adept at instilling whimsy into their performances, underscoring it with the sort of musicality that prevents the group from becoming a mere novelty."

-John Murph, Song of the Day


"Reunited is a nugget of gold for jazz fans—or for anyone who digs off-beat joy in music."

-Will Layman, Pop Matters

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