RMI Records is proud to announce the release of Reach Out, the first full album by The Envisage Collective. This modern, soulful collection of acoustic jazz highlights the diverse approaches of the group’s composers, unified by fire, sensitivity, and especially their shared commitment to a better world.
Envisage Collective was formed in 2012 by saxophonist Kris Allen, vibraphonist Chris Dingman, and pianist Noah Baerman, initially in partnership with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene and drummer Johnathan Blake, all bandleader-composers with established track records of making music explicitly inspired by the world around them, whether social causes or personal journeys. Initially dubbing the assemblage the Jazz Samaritan Alliance, they committed to gathering to create original music that would shine a light on causes important to them. They began performing in 2014, as well as appearing together on several tracks from Baerman’s 2014 release Ripples. Bassist Ike Sturm became a regular participant that year, and 2017 and 2018 marked their first performances with trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis and drummer Allan Mednard, respectively.
In early 2019 the group gathered to record an album’s worth of compositions generated for three concerts in partnership with Asylum Hill Congregational Church’s Music for Humanity series in Hartford, CT. While they have also performed these at more traditional jazz venues in New York and elsewhere in the Northeast, these concerts were special opportunities for the group to deepen its broader mission, with the events raising money for local charities connected to the compositions’ subject matter, including food justice, domestic violence, and healthcare access.
The emotionally arresting music at once displays the group’s unity and the members’ distinctive musical personalities. Dingman’s triumphant title track opens the album with an exclamation point amidst his characteristic harmonic warmth, and features the first of numerous powerful solos by him and Allen. His anthemic “Wish,” meanwhile, is comparatively simple and gives the band lots of room to musically and emotionally inhabit the piece’s inspiring and melodically infectious theme. Allen’s two compositional contributions, “Malta House” and “Habitat” both shout out charitable organizations important to him while displaying his intricate compositional voice, integrating all members of the band with interlocking rhythms and lines that coalesce in surprising ways, while providing the musicians with a variety of settings for their improvisations and conversations. As on the other compositions, Mednard’s irrepressible percussive energy lifts up Baerman’s two pieces, the gnarly “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” inspired conceptually by the work of the author Michael Pollan, and “Step on a Crack,” addressing the topic of healthcare insecurity. These compositions evoke the harmonic and rhythmic crunch of Booker Little juxtaposed against grooves and melodies reminiscent of Stevie Wonder in the former case and Art Blakey in the latter.
Sturm’s “Envisage,” which inspired the group’s name change, builds a melodic web atop his full-bodied acoustic bass, with a mix of stark melodic directness and metric and contrapuntal complexity reminiscent of his work as a bandleader and as Music Director for Jazz at Saint Peter’s Church in Manhattan. Noordhuis’s “The Closer” puts a fitting bow on the program, displaying her distinctive melodic sense and warm flugelhorn over a subtly funky groove. Throughout, the group’s interplay brings them to a variety of musical places, some of them raucous and some tender and intimate.
The commitment to causes that binds them together in this configuration ultimately serves to add a layer of inspiration both in the music and in their sense of purpose as a unit, and while the music stands on its own, that inspiration shines through on this chapter in the group’s development.