By Dan Bilawsky
All About Jazz
The title of Roads Less Traveled isn’t just talk; it basically defines Michael Lake’s entire career in music. Lake has made his way in the music world by playing the alto trombone—an instrument that many would simply look at as a novelty horn. Many years ago, his teacher at Arizona State University—a graduate assistant named Kevin Hedges—turned him onto this lesser-used little brother of the tenor trombone; it’s been his go-to horn ever since.
As Lake worked his way into music, studies with forward-thinking trombonist George Lewis helped to widen his perspective, as did his move to Boston, which found him joining up with with a four-trombone salsa band called Caribbean Express. A decade’s stay in New York followed, during which time he performed with a variety of straight ahead and Latin outfits, including the band of percussion great Ray Barretto. These days, it almost seems like Lake has gone full circle. He’s called Arizona home now for quite some time, and he reunited with his college roomate—St. Louis Symphony bass trombonist Gerry Pagano—for this delightful duo date.
On Roads Less Traveled Lake paints full canvases. He fills out the sound in multiple ways, adding keyboards, throwing electronics into the mix, and by creatively and judiciously overdubbing horn parts. As the album kicks off, a pair of high energy numbers Charlie Parkers “Yardbird Suite” and John Coltranes “Moment’s Notice”—showcase Lake’s skills on the horn, his studio savvy, and the blend he achieves with himself and Pagano. Those same two pieces are also cause for concern, as they almost come across like brilliant-and-brassy Music Minus One pieces for a drummer or pianist to jump on. Thankfully, those worries vanish as the album moves on. A less concentrated, more contemplative sound emerges on the third track—Bill Evans’ “The Two Lonely People”—and this pair goes every which way from there.
Variety serves Lake and Pagano well as the album continues to unfold. Things get funky during “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines,” a rich-and-full sound pours out of the speakers on “Amazing Grace,” a broken beginning leads to a stable Latin environment during “The Ecuadorian Two-Step,” and a nuanced take on “My Ship” is simply gorgeous. And then there’s the least jazz-connected number on the album, which is also the pièce de résistance—Tangerine Dream’s “Love On A Real Train.” This pair artfully revises that electro-minimalist canvas, completely reclaiming it for themselves.
Lake and Pagano deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve accomplished here. Roads Less Traveledis an inspired, well-wrought work of art.
By Midwest Record
A white guy from Arizona gets a music scholarship to study with cats from Art Ensemble of Chicago and you think he won’t have way-out creative ideas? Farther along down life’s trail than he was back then, he still hasn’t lost his restless spirit to push the boundaries. With his multi instrument abilities and multi-track recorder, he’s created his own old school sounding trombone orchestra and it’s a gasser. The set list doesn’t stray too far from straight ahead jazz, but you don’t mind the diversions no matter how much of a jazzbo you are. Playing it straight but with a certain, palpable winking askewness, Lake, with coloration from Pagano, serves up the goods in just the right fashion. There’s no way a mainstreamer can’t love this.
By Grady Harp
The unusual and very fine recording is a diverse collection of jazz, electronic, Latin, soul, and even a touch of zydeco. So what makes it unique? Most of the parts are played on trombone, and not just any trombone, but an alto trombone.
According to the album notes, Michael Lake recorded each of the alto trombone parts separately, then mixed them down to what sounds like a tight, well rehearsed group of 3, 4 and sometimes 5 horns. At one point within Love on a Real Train, there are over a dozen trombones playing at once. Amazing Grace was recorded on 22 tracks in order for it to sound like a massive trombone choir. Complimenting the alto trombone throughout is Gerry Pagano on bass trombone. Gerry is the bass trombonist in the St. Louis Symphony. He came into Michael’s studio and laid down all the bass trombone tracks to the accompaniment of Michael’s already recorded trombones and other instruments. Most of the songs contain Michael’s improvisation as well as his creative use of synthesizers and other electronic effects. Often sounding more like a voice than a trombone, Michael’s lyrical playing and unique style create emotions not typically associated with the trombone. Throughout the synthesizers and tightly played ensemble parts is a simple organic undertone to almost everything giving Roads Less Traveled both a technical precision and a warm feel-good personality that should please even non-jazz fans.
Strange music that becomes addictive. Give a listen – over and over.
By Michael Davis
Exquisite playing and beautifully crafted arrangements make the Roads Less Traveled a must take musical journey. Michael Lake’s virtuosic alto trombone playing is worth the price of admission alone, as is Gerry Pagano’s rock solid bass trombone performance, but together it’s a match made in heaven. Bravo Michael and Gerry.
By Dr. Stan Pathel
The International Trombone Association
How many of us formed a relationship with a college roommate that has lasted for decades? Quite a few of us for sure.
Well, here is a pair of roomies from Arizona State in a reunion that is both entertaining and innovative.
Michael Lake became a jazz alto trombone virtuoso and a sound recording geek of the first echelon. Gerry Pagano rose circuitously through several trombone environments to the bass trombone chair with the St. Louis Symphony.
This CD is a fortunate intersection of musical growth, versatility, and technological magic. Both trombone performers have range, control, and an understanding of musical performance styles. There is never a lick that is chipped or overplayed, and the arrangements are fantastic.
Recordings feature impressive overdubbing of multiple trombone parts with a minimum amount of complimenting tracks ranging from a walking bass line on Yardbird Suite, to a simple tambourine shake on The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines, with the most extra-trombone sounds of heavy percussion on Amazing Grace.
There is plenty of tasty improvisation and to call the ensemble playing tight, would be an understatement. The blend of Lakes’ multi-track alto trombone with its slightly brighter timbre and Pagano’s big, always well centered bass trombone tone, is a rare musical delight.
Styles range from the swing of Yardbirds to symphonic Amazing Grace , and they are always dead-on solidly performed. Two tracks of a somewhat different nature are The Ecuadorian Two-Step and Love on A Real Train. Ecuadorian Two-Step begins with pointillistic pitches on the two trombones that gradually merge into a cool Latin groove with a soaring solo over the multi-trombone ostinato. Love on a Real Train is a programmatic piece with a perpetual motion feel, featuring a trombone loop-like figure.
If you are a fan of trombone ensembles, this is a CD you need in your collection. You will find it on iTunes and the usual sources. Check out the web sites of these two phenoms at: https://altobone.com/ and http://gerrypagano.org.
Whether featuring a great solo, ensemble performance, Latin-feel, swing, symphonic, or the use of percussion and electronic effects, this is an outstanding performance by two college buds. It is a real treat to be allowed to share in this roommate reunion, and we can only hope for another in the future.
Lake keeps his trombone as the focal voice on the recording, with the synths adding decorative frills and embellishments. He has studied with George Lewis, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, and other members from the Art Ensemble of Chicago. His experience as a live performer exposed him to a variety of settings playing mainly jazz and Latin music with notables like Lalo Rodriguez and Frankie Ruiz. For several years, he was Ray Barretto’s trombonist. Lake’s balance between artificial ringlets and acoustic waves make for an intriguing jaunt.