It was a chilly night in late April 2014 when drummer Cory Healey brought a new band to Studio Z. This was following the most recent “polar vortex winter” and Cory thought the band should have a name like “Unique Beautiful Snowflake.” Tired of snow, however, an audience member requested “sunshine”, and the ensemble became Cory Healey’s Beautiful Sunshine Band. It’s been a milder winter but Beautiful Sunshine, Healey’s debut recording, is nevertheless most welcome, especially given the talents of Healey and his cohorts, Brandon Wozniak on sax, Jake Baldwin on trumpet, Zacc Harris on guitar, and Erik Fratzke on electric bass.
The Beautiful Sunshine Band
With his “Beautiful Sunshine Band,” drummer Cory “The Healer” Healey expanded his original 4-Tet, adding saxophone to the trumpet/guitar/bass/drum ensemble. The Iowa native moved to the Twin Cities about 3 years ago after stints in Chicago and New York. His unique and versatile style of drumming led to performance opportunities in a wide range of genres and touring extensively in North America and Europe. While in Chicago, Cory performed regularly with Windy City ensembles, including Fareed Haque’s Flat Earth Ensemble, neopsychodelic-post rock jazz group Algernon, and W.W. Lowman. Healey also has performed with a number of leading international artists, including Kenny Wheeler, Dr. Lonnie Smith, John Abercrombie, and David Berkman. In addition to fronting his own bands, Cory has appeared locally with the Bryan Nichols Quartet, Adam Linz’s Le Percheron, Chris Bates Trio, the Jon Pemberton Trio, and more.
Saxman Brandon Wozniak previously lived and worked in New York City, toured with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and earned his BA from Indiana University under the tutelage of David Baker. Since arriving in the Twin Cities in 2006, he has performed with local bands including the Atlantis Quartet, Red Five, Dave King Trucking Company, Adam Meckler Quintet, Bryan Nichols Quintet, Zacc Harris Quartet, Jeremy Walker’s 7 Psalms project, and in varying combinations with Adam Linz, Billy Peterson, Dean Magraw, Kenny Horst, Zacc Harris, Steve Kenny, and more. He’s also part of the Atrium Jazz Ensemble directed by Jeremy Walker, performing in a series of concerts in the Target Atrium of Orchestra Hall.
A graduate of Minnetonka High School and alum of the second and third editions of the Dakota Combo, Jake Baldwin studied with Jerry Bergonzi, Bob Moses, John McNeil, Joe Morris and Fred Hersch at the New England Conservatory, and was one of three finalists in the 2011 International Trumpet Guild Solo Competition; a year later he was runner-up in the jazz division of the National Trumpet Competition. After graduating from NEC in 2013, Jake moved back to the Twin Cities, leading his own bands at such venues as the Dakota, Artists Quarter, and Jazz Central, and performing with the Twin Cities Latin Jazz Orchestra, Chomsky, Thomas Nordlund Group, Endeavors, Ramtrack, McNasty Brass Band, and Cory Healey’s ensembles. Jake, whom Healey describes as a “fire-breathing dragon of a trumpet player,” recently released his first album as leader, Ra Ra Ru.
Zacc Harris came to Minneapolis about a decade ago from Illinois, where he graduated from Southern Illinois University. Here he formed the Luminessence Trio (now Zacc Harris Trio), continuing weekly gigs at the Riverview Wine Bar. Zacc leads his Quartet, Atlantis Quartet, Vital Organ, the Zacc Harris Group, Counterclockwise, and American Reverie; performs in Dean Granros’ Tall Tales quartet and frequently with Brandon Wozniak, Adam Meckler and Babatunde Lea; and teaches private guitar lessons. He’s also curated the Jazz at Studio Z series for four seasons.
Multi-instrumentalist/composer Erik Fratzke lends his bass to Happy Apple and his guitar to other projects, including the Dave King Trucking Company, Gang Font and Zebulon Pike. Over the years, the three-time Minnesota Music Awards winner as “Bassist of the Year” has played with Reid Anderson and Bill Carrothers in addition to Mike Lewis, Dave King, and Adam Linz, among others.
Beautiful Sunshine (Shifting Paradigm Records, 2016)
Recorded in the Twin Cities by Brett Bullion and mastered by Huntley Miller, Beautiful Sunshine covers eleven tracks, nine originals from Cory Healey along with a cover of Anne Clark (St. Vincent)’s “Cheerleader” and Bob Dylan’s iconic “With God on Our Side.” And throughout, the music is usually in a (pleasing) state of unrest, where calm beginnings often give way to varying degrees of agitation or where moods shift back and forth. The opening “Ubiquitous Condiments” (aptly titled) starts out with a bubbling bass and statement from the horns, then morphs into a series of volleys, the theme of the full ensemble yielding to quick, snarky passages, with Baldwin’s twisting trumpet, Wozniak’s off-kilter sax both sizzling over smirky basslines and a couple of interludes of colliding electronic particles. “Ralphy” only seems heading toward balladry until Healey’s thrashing draws out a furious solo from Wozniak that brings to mind Coltrane, Chris Potter and even Tim Berne. “Cheerleader” suggests a lovely reprieve highlighting the softer side of Jake Baldwin and silky saxophonics from Brandon Wozniak that suddenly devolves into a rock anthem. Going forward, melodic passages trade of with ensemble enslaughts, Healey’s arsenal of percussion key to the back-and-forth momentum.
“Aragon” is 21st century be-bop, like a Charlie Parker standard turned inside-out, as much driven by Healey’s wild-flung drumming as by that “firebreathing dragon” (Baldwin) and a century-crossing bass solo from Fratzke. Healey himself creates a masterful solo of jerky rhythms that sends the ensemble back to go. “Wintry Mix” sports a long drum/bass duo introduction; Healey and Fratzke remain locked in their vamp while the horns and guitar over a sonic mix that is slippery and ominous, much like the rush hour traffic of a Minnesota March. Baldwin is at his snarly best here. “Wheel” features Zacc Harris’ agile guitar, a mid-tempo beauty buoyed by Fratzke and Healey’s nonstop interplay. As the title suggests, “Omen” starts off with a rather dark and haunting ensemble stage, then moves ahead like a spooky film soundtrack, sustained guitar and basslines support Wozniak’s wandering sax, while electronic effects add to the “Dark Shadows” vibe.
Furious drums and acrobatic bass open the brief “Jerry’s DX,” like brothers having an argument; it’s a one-minute duet with the rest of the band adding 20 seconds of comment. The shortest track is followed by the longest (nearly 11 minutes), “Last Thursday,” a group conversation with Jake Baldwin providing an aggressive first testimony, Wozniak following in rebuttal, while the ensemble keeps the energy flowing. About three minutes in, the tide shifts dramatically as Wozniak offers up a beautiful, prayer-like tale over ambient strings; after another few minutes, Baldwin steps in to provide another side to the conversation. A frenzied gathering of all voices –plus electronics-brings the show to an end.
“With God on Our Side” starts off with Zacc Harris in lyrical solo mode before Healey joins in with some ruffled percussion, followed by harsher guitar and bass effects. Following the melody with hestitations and slippery notes, Baldwin joins in, then Wozniak, and soon the horn harmonies are battling for attention with increasingly agitated drums and strings, creating a mild cacaphony; in th next chorus the melody fractures and the band sets up a firestorm of percussion, yet soon the ensemble falls back together, peacefully. The short finale, a “Wheel Remix,” reverse horn and string roles from the earlier track, in a more sparse setting, as if a reflection of the original as heard through a prism.
This is serious, fun, and intriguing music. Beautiful aural sunshine on a winter’s day.
CDs available from Shifting Paradigms Records