Spin Cycle co-leaders Scott Neumann and Tom Christensen have known and played with each other for many years but never co-led a band before. Their band Spin Cycle is a great place to highlight their flexibility and reach—and their capacity for surprise. On any given song, you might encounter the modal influence of John Coltrane, the second-line funk of New Orleans, and/or the edgy experimentation of free jazz.
There is, to be sure, plenty of musical comfort food provided by Spin Cycle, with compositions by Christensen, a consummate multi-instrumentalist who mostly plays tenor saxophone here, and by Neumann a versatile and expressive drummer as well. Having performed in all kinds of settings including the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Jazz Mandolin Project, the Gil Evans Project, Madeleine Peyroux’s touring group, Broadway pit bands—and Cheap Trick—the co-leaders know how to dig deep, swing hard, and put a shine on a ballad.
But their piano-less quartet departs the norm with its unusual blend of airy textures and bounding energy. “Guitar chords are more sparse than piano chords, they’re more open sounding,” says Christensen, explaining the decision to reach out to McCann. “This lineup gives us a lot of room to try out different things.”
Christensen and Neumann first played together in 1989 at a jam session at Neumann’s apartment in Astoria, Queens, shortly after Christensen’s arrival in New York. They were soon playing together at such hallowed clubs as Birdland, Visiones, and Augie’s. Six years ago, what might have seemed an obvious move to their followers—forming a band together—became obvious to Neumann.
“I naturally thought of Tom. In addition to playing together, and playing with many of the same musicians, we’ve spent a lot of time backpacking and hiking together. He had tunes, I had tunes. They went well together because we share a lot of the same musical influences.”
Once they decided on the format of the band, getting McCann was a no-brainer. Neumann has played with the Wisconsin native for more than 30 years, going back to their days at the esteemed music program at North Texas State (now the University of North Texas). And Christensen had played with the guitarist in Maria Schneider’s Big Band. Palombi, a gifted bassist with whom Neumann had played in trumpeter Bill Mobley’s big band during their four-year run at Smoke, was the final inspired piece to fall into place.
Born on August 18, 1962 in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Scott Neumann fell in love with the drums when he was little, bashing away on a toy set. He was exposed to what we now call classic rock by his brother, who is eight years older than he. Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock version of “The Star Spangled Banner” stands out, as do songs by Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin. His brother also turned him on to New Wave bands like Talking Heads and Pretenders. Before long, Scott was “wrapping my ears around” the jazz-rock fusion of bands including Weather Report and Return to Forever.
A female jazz singer friend of his mother’s who involved his parents in the Tulsa jazz scene got him thinking seriously about becoming a jazz drummer. The Drums, a three-disc set issued in 1974 by ABC Impulse, set those wheels in motion via tracks by such greats as Baby Dodds, Buddy Rich, and Elvin Jones. Neumann got so good so fast that by his early teen years, he was a regular on the club scene in northeastern Oklahoma and southern Kansas. His drum instructor, who was battling MS, even had Scott take over one of his bands, a guitar trio.
Neumann went on to blossom at North Texas State. Recruited by Tony Scherr, who was playing bass with the Woody Herman Orchestra on his way to becoming a cog in Bill Frisell’s bands, Neumann played with that illustrious group for a year before moving to New York in 1988.
It wasn’t long before he became a regular in a band that included such standout players as Rich Perry and John Fedchock. At his apartment in Queens, he held court with such up-and-coming players as Rick Margitza, Scott Wendholt, and Pete McGuinness, whose big band he later joined. On the 2006 album, Osage County, he led a quartet including pianist David Berkman and saxophonist Sam Newsome.
A busy player on the New York scene who has played with such luminaries as Kenny Barron and Ben Allison, Neumann also accrued impressive credits as a vocal accompanist (for Ann Hampton Callaway, among others), Broadway musician (he made Swing! swing), and instructor (he directs the drum studies program at Lehigh University).
“Melody is my strongest thing,” says Neumann. “As a musician and also as a writer, I write for melody.”
Tom Christensen was born on December 27, 1961 in Ventura, California. Like Neumann, he was drawn to rock as a youngster—in his case the likes of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Paul Simon—as well as Country and Western hymns. He first became interested in jazz-rock fusion, and straight-ahead jazz, while attending high school in the Napa Valley. He frequented clubs in nearby San Francisco, where he heard such legends as Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, and Art Blakey and stayed up late listening to the music on prized radio station KJAZ.
In what proved to be a milestone in Christensen’s ongoing musical education, his school band director, who knew Joe Henderson’s girlfriend, helped arrange for young Tom to take private lessons from the tenor saxophone great at Henderson’s home in San Francisco.
“I’d go to his house in the late afternoon for a three-hour session,” said Christensen. “It was a pretty unique thing. Joe would teach me a solo he made up on the spot. He made me memorize it, lick by lick. Then he’d disappear for half an hour. It was like that every time, though I remember him showing up four hours late one night. He was super-smart, very soft-spoken, but a little mysterious.”
Christensen attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he studied classical music as well as jazz on both undergraduate and graduate levels and acquired degrees in performance. In 1989, he moved to the New York City area. From his home base in Teaneck, New Jersey (which such legends as Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, and Nat Adderley called home), he established himself as a go-to player in jazz and commercial settings.
For eight years, he was a member of the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, appearing on five of their albums. He also has played on such notable recordings as Joe Lovano’s Celebrating Sinatra, Don Sebesky’s I Remember Bill, Rufus Reid’s Quiet Pride, the David Liebman Big Band’s Tribute to Wayne Shorter, and Ryan Truesdell and the Gil Evans Projects’s Lines of Color—Live at the Jazz Standard.
With his classical, world music, and new music leanings, and his mastery of the English horn, oboe, flute, and clarinet, Christensen has been difficult to pin down, stylistically. His 2000 debut, Gualala, and 2002 effort, Paths, team him with multi-reedist Charles Pillow. His other recordings include Americana (2003) and Kailash (2007), on which he joins the Kailash Trio,and the Tom Christensen Ensemble’s New York School (2005), which features a work of his based on the poetry of Frank O’Hara. It was commissioned by Chamber Music America.
With its strong melodies, tight rhythms, intriguing textures, and sophisticated interplay, Spin Cycle has got everything covered. What makes the band special is how everything fits together—or, by intention, doesn’t. For listeners and band members alike, every tune is an adventure. •
About Assorted Colors
From the moment the group dives head first into the lead off track, the playful angular and hard-swinging “Break Tune”, the intensity never relents, until Christensen completes his exhilarating tenor workout on the athletic closer “Fit Bit”. Characteristics that made the group’s initial release so appealing – strong melodic hooks, rock solid grooves, advanced harmonies and aggressive, deftly executed improvisations – have been refined by two years of intensive touring and are displayed even more cohesively on “Assorted Colors”. Spin Cycle is on a roll with momentum to spare.
Ed Enright, Downbeat
Assorted Colors is loaded with swinging melodies and grooves and all the stuff that real players once had to master just to get the chance to step up. Another winning set throughout, the mainstream listener is sure to be bouncing his seat after getting a load of this latest hard hitting addition to the sitting down jazz shelf. Well done
Midwest Record Review
Spin Cycle is one of freshest groups on the scene today. With a quartet composed of some of New York’s best players, great solos abound from start to finish.
Rochester City Newspaper
About Spin Cycle
Spin Cycle’s self-titled debut CD is an all-original program of 10 tunes—six by Christensen and four by Neumann—that captivate with bright melodic lines, deep-seated grooves, catchy rhythmic devices and sophisticated harmony. Improvisations run wild, as soloists embrace aggressive and daring ideas from the realms of modal jazz, free-jazz, second-line and soul, not to mention good old-fashioned swing.
A cohesive unit that commands an exceptional stylistic range and exhibits a go-for-broke attitude…..Spin Cycle has the potential to connect with a broader national audience as well as international listeners.
Ed Enright, Downbeat
This is one seriously high octane release hard charging, straight ahead jazz fans will love. With chops and energy to spare, this is a set that certainly knows how to hit all the right notes .
Spin Cycle is a free-wheeling, take-no-prisoners roller coaster ride accentuating their willingness to venture free and edgy.
Mike Greenblatt, Classicalite.com