My Astorian Queen
We’re brought to this new release, My Astorian Queen by German native, New York-based bassist and composer Martin Wind partly through coincidence. Having just reviewed on these pages, the terrific vocal album While You Were Gone from Paul Jost, on which Wind plays impressively on four tracks as a guest bassist, that awareness leads us to this new release from Wind. Timing works in odd ways, right? In any case, Wind has been recording since 1996 and in recent periods, just as he does here, with his quartet comprised of pianist Bill Mays, drummer Matt Wilson, and multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson (tenor sax, clarinet, bass saxophone, trumpet). The promo materials mention that Wind is one of a few German musicians that were able to establish themselves on the New York jazz scene for good. Another coincidence – although this is only her second album we are writing about German-born Marieke Weining’s release this week too.
The title relates to Wind’s wife Maria, with him he shared an apartment in Astoria, Queens when first moving to the states, having been introduced to her on a blind date so to speak from pianist Mays, who had befriended Wind in Europe. Mays first heard the classically trained Wind perform at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam in 1992. Shortly after that, he became Wind’s mentor and toured Europe together as a trio with the late drummer Keith Copeland.
The album is more than just an ode to his wife, it’s an ode to New York City. The quartet opens with the swinging “Mean What You Say,” that hearkens back to Wind’s first time playing with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (former Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band) and his remarkable first impression on how warm his bass sounded in the famed basement club. The tune begins with a piano intro from Mays supported by Wind and Wilson on brushes before Robinson on trumpet enters with the melody, blowing lines that Thad Jones probably did at one time. Wind’s bass is sounding robust and warm in this context too, and, as he does on every selection, gives himself a solo which reveals his masterful melodic touch.
“Solitude” is a piece that Wind wrote during the pandemic shutdown about a particular beach on the Flensburg Fjord on the Baltic Sea, reminding him of hometown in Germany. Robinson’s clarinet is especially lovely in this yearning ballad. “Broadway” references some of Wind’s work in Broadway’s pits, as he subbed for some shows after first arriving in New York. This has one of Wind’s most inspired solos on the disc and he’s not the only one on the low end as Robinson plays a contrabass saxophone, of which there are only 20 in existence. (Robinson can likely play and probably owns every known instrument in the reed and brass families, including many obscure items) Toward the end of the piece, the blend between the sax and Wind’s arco bass forms a uniquely rare sound. The theme here nods to Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate.” Bill Mays’ “Peace Waltz” is another gorgeously melodic piece, showcasing the pianist of course, and Wind on the bowed bass, revealing some of his classical upbringing.
As a long-running educator at NYU, one of Wind’s Brazilian students presented him with this piece specifically written for this quartet with Robinson in the lead on tenor while the rhythm section keeps it moving briskly continuing through Wind’s emphatic plucking solo. The curious aspect of the next title “Out in P.A.” is the period in between the two-letter abbreviation for the state of Pennsylvania. Wind claims it dates to the first time that Mays, Wilson and he recorded together on Family (2000). Like several of his pieces it begins contemplatively, builds in intensity, and ends in a stirring climax.
Commenting on the title track, Wind mentions some first-time discoveries between he and his wife Maria, including this anecdote, “When I finally moved into my own pad and received a phone line, my number was exactly one digit different from hers – and we are talking area code 718 when covers about 5 million people…We listened to these signs – we were meant for each other!” As you might guess, it’s a tender, romantic piece with Robinson on tenor blowing soulfully in the lower register Ben Webster style while the rhythm section plays with delicate restraint.
The last two pieces are direct odes to NYC with Robinson playing a fiery trumpet on Gershwin’s “There’s a Boat That Is Leaving Soon for N.Y. that closes with animated exchanges with Wilson on the eights while the anthemic “New York, New York” is usually Wind’s set closer, featuring creative work from Wilson on the cymbals behind Wind’s bass which carries the melody, interspersing elements from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” “Take the A-Train,” “Broadway,” and “Moon River,” forming a fascinating bass-drum duet.
Wind and his quartet have created a carefully crafted, varied album that highlights the talents of each player with Scott Robinson serving as a wild card of sorts, having played four different instruments. While there are a few fiery moments, there are more simply beautiful ones as this quartet plays with a respect for each piece, keeping the solos relatively brief, and playing in a straight-ahead mode.
– Jim Hynes