Roy Nathanson’s Sotto Vocce - Subway Moon
CD yeb-7711-2

Roy Nathanson’s Sotto Vocce
"Subway Moon"

Curtis Fowlkes - trombone, vocals
Brad Jones - bass
Tim Kiah - vocals, bass on Love Train
Roy Nathanson - alto and aoprano sax, vocals
Sam Bardfeld - violin
Napoleon Maddox - human beatbox, vocals
Bill Ware - vibes, vocals
Hugo Dwyer - keyboard sampler
Sean Sondregger - tenor sax and flute
Marcus Rojas - tuba
Gabriel Nathanson - trumpet on Love Train


1. Love Train  2. Subway Noah  3. Party  4. Alto Rain  5. Dear Brother  6. Orange Alert
7. Two Horn Rain  8. New Guy to Look At  9. Stand Clear  10. Safer End of Subway Moon

Roy Nathanson has had a varied career as a saxophonist, composer, band leader, actor, poet and teacher. His career began in the mid 70’s playing with R&B luminaries like Shirley Alston of the Shirelles, to Charles Earland’s band, to the Lounge Lizards, to the Jazz Passengers, which he co-founded with Curtis Fowlkes in 1987. The Passengers have made eight CDs and have done extensive touring over the years. Their most recent project was an original soundtrack soundtrack (score and dialogue) for the 1954 classic 3D film “Creature From the Black Lagoon” and “The Rock Concert” an examination of deep time for which Roy received a commission from The University of Wisconsin. Mr. Nathanson has been the principle composer of the band and has written songs for Elvis Costello, Jeff Buckley, Deborah Harry, Jimmy Scott, and many others in that capacity. In recent years, Roy has collaborated with Bill Ware on several film scores including “Raising Victor Vargas”. He has released several CDs of duo works with keyboardist Anthony Coleman. Roy’s work combining music and text has appeared on “The Next Big Thing” on PRI. His first text/music CD, “Sotto Voce” was released in spring 2006 on AUM Fidelity Records. His second “Sotto Voce” CD is Subway Moon on Enja/YellowBird Records and was a product of a grant from Chamber Music America. His first book of poetry “Subway Moon” will be released at the same time from “Buddy’s Knife Editions’ of Cologne. Roy has been a recipient of several Meet the Composer Grants, two NYFA composing fellowships and a Bessie and Joseph Jefferson Award.

Subway Moon is the brand new concept from the extraordinarily gifted mind of saxophonist, composer, and songwriter Roy Nathanson. Members of his new ensemble Sotto Voce team up with guests from his longtime Jazz Passengers to inhabit internal monologues about the New York subway, bringing a remarkable multilayered underground world to life.

The CD gleans material from Roy’s new poetry book of the same name, published by Buddy’s Knife Editions. Spoken word sections drift over Roy’s signature meter-changing grooves as the instrumentation dances through the landscape of image and memory—Curtis Fowlkes’ boisterous horn, Bill Ware’s shimmering vibes, Sam Bardfeld’s swinging violin, and the bases of Brad Jones & Tim Kiah. Consistent with the language of Roy’s first Sotto Voce release (AUM Fidelity, 2006) Napolean Maddox’s brilliant beatbox vocals morph out of the spoken word sections and allow the instruments to be part of a continuous storytelling voice.

After a series of personal journeys through tragedy and transformation, Roy moved back to the Brooklyn neighborhood where he was born, into an old house right above the subway tracks. Teaching music at a New York school, he wrote all of these stories amid the crush of working people going into Manhattan. And, thanks to producer Hugo Dwyer’s wonderful samples, actual sounds of the subway serve as a background for Roy’s reflections and observations about people, place, and the passage of time.

Beginning with a heartbreaking, minimalist rendition of the Gamble & Hill classic “Love Train,” Subway Moon takes listeners on wild ride through Bush-era Orange Alerts, past the “Why are you killing me?” chant of a man dressed in a blue plastic bag, and into a proto-disco lament about a failed subway romance. Part audio-film, part radio-play, part jazz-song-cycle originally commissioned by Chamber Music America, Subway Moon treads some very new ground.

Peter Margasak in Downbeat 9/2009:
The second album by saxophonist Roy Nathanson's Sotto Voce project, which marries spoken word with jazz, succeeds for a number of reasons, but focus is key among them. The music on the album was commissioned by Chamber Music America's New Works, and the longtime Jazz Passenger weaves together a number of cogent stories and images gleaned from the New York subway system, particularly Brooklyn, his native neighborhood, to create an evocative beyond-the-surface portrait of the city. The fluid, street smart poems that occupy most of the pieces were taken from a book of tbe same name that Nathanson recently published, and he complements his own dry but musical delivery with the beatboxing of Napoleon Maddox and interjections and harmony parts from various other band members. There are other Jazz Passengers involved, including trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, violinist Sam Bardfeld and vibist Bill Ware; they execute the resourceful, shape-shifting arrangements, which, along with urban environmental sound samples, provide a rich canvas for Nathanson's words. He avoids the typical, overly dramatic spoken word approach, and in some ways his voice becomes yet anotber element in the buoyant, multi-linear attack. Although there's nothing remotely retro about tbe music, some of his aching melodies and ebullient counterpoint recalls another jazz great who liked to work with spoken word: Charles Mingus. An impressive piece of work.

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