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Maroon (Jazz)

Not to be confused with the Los Angeles-based alternative pop/rock group Maroon 5, or a reggae group called the Maroons, New York City's Maroon is an adventurous, risk-taking band with a jazz orientation. That isn't to say that Maroon is comprised of jazz purists or bop snobs; actually, the group is far from straight-ahead bop. Instead, vocalist Hillary Maroon and her colleagues provide mildly avant-garde jazz that has been greatly influenced by rock, soul, and funk, and the Brooklyn residents bring a wide variety of influences to their work. Hillary Maroon's expressive, passionate lead vocals give the impression that she has been affected by everyone from Cassandra Wilson, Betty Carter, Sheila Jordan, Carmen McRae and Abbey Lincoln, to Nina Simone and Chaka Khan, and the group's other explorers sound like they're into instrumentalists who range from Miles Davis to the Sun Ra Arkestra to members of Chicago's AACM. The Big Apple foursome can be abstract, cerebral and eccentric, but they are also funky and quite musical and know how to groove; they have an inside/outside perspective, but are more inside than outside. In addition to providing some original material, Hillary Maroon and her friends are great at interpreting popular songs -- and those songs don't necessarily come from Tin Pan Alley. When it comes to choosing popular music, many jazz artists will stick to old Tin Pan Alley standards of the '20s, '30s, and '40s; Hillary Maroon and her allies don't exclude Tin Pan Alley, but they have also found the jazz potential in songs by Radiohead, Bob Dylan, Soundgarden, John Lennon, and the Pretenders -- and because of their willingness to bring rock material into a jazz-oriented setting, they have sometimes been compared to the Bad Plus (another Big Apple band). It's important to know that if Hillary Maroon and friends are embracing something by the Pretenders, Dylan, or Soundgarden, they aren't simply covering it -- they're reworking it, which is what jazz improvisers have been doing for generations. So even though their recordings are far from what a bop snob would consider ideal, they are bringing a real improviser's mentality to the table. Hillary Maroon, who is originally from upstate New York, formed Maroon in Brooklyn (an increasingly popular destination for musicians) in 2000 with pianist/keyboardist Benny Lackner. On their first album, Migratory, co-leaders Maroon and Lackner employed Andrew Emer on bass and used three different drummers, but subsequently, they hired drummer Lance Carter and bassist Derek Nievergelt (a flexible musician who has played with everyone from saxman Greg Osby and trumpeter Terence Blanchard to singer Diana Krall). Meanwhile, New Jersey native Carter has appeared on albums by Cassandra Wilson and avant-garde guitarist Sonny Sharrock. Migratory was released on the Brooklyn-based Head Fulla Brains label in 2002; the band's second album, Who the Sky Betrays (also on Head Fulla Brains) was recorded the following year. ~ Alex Henderson, Rovi
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