I confess I can be guilty of the parochialism that burdens many jazz fans. Some listen with their eyes (you know what I mean) and some listen for the Name: “I never heard of __________,” translates tacitly to dismissal, based on an unspoken egotism: “I am wise in the ways of The Jazz, and if I haven’t heard of ____________, (s)he cannot be up to my standards.”
But when a friend whose taste is unquestionably good (in this case, the erudite and friendly Fernando Ortiz de Urbina) says, “You might like this,” I put my impatience and snobbery aside and listen.
And in the case of the young trumpeter Joan Mar Sauqué, I’m seriously convinced. You can quote me: “Everybody from Barcelona can really do that thing!”
But don’t depend on me. Hear some brilliant evidence:
and some Jerome Kern:
You can decide for yourself who Joan “Sounds Like,” and I have my own short list of eminent names, but what he sounds like to be is delightful: lyrical but fluent, fast on his feet with every note ringing chime-like. Airborne but serious. He’s heard many people but — hooray! — he sounds like himself. Joan is comfortable simply playing the melody — that great art — or embellishing it, making it shine even more. His improvisations are harmonically wise but he never aims strings of notes at the listener as if he were firing bullets. He makes music that “comes in the ear like honey,” but it’s never sticky or trite. And his colleagues, guitarist Josep Traver and bassist Giuseppe Campisi, are empathic swinging partners, making music both translucent and memorable.
If you must — does the mental algorithm demand such things now? — I’m reminded of Warren Vaché, Tony Fruscella, Ruby Braff, Shorty Baker . . . but my hope is that someday soon I will hear an unannounced track on the radio and think, “Wow, that’s Joan Mar Sauqué! I’ve never heard that before: I hope it’s another new CD.”
The songs are BITTY DITTY / MY DREAM / RAY’S IDEA / I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU / IN THE LAND OF OO-BLA-DEE, I COVER THE WATERFRONT / KITCHENETTE ACROSS THE HALL / BILL / SHABOZZ / STRICTLY ROMANTIC / STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY — a pleasing mix of venerable but sometimes less-played standards and rare tunes from early bebop. Completely melodic, easy and graceful.
And here are Fernando’s lyrical, pointed liner notes for this CD:
From Algeciras to Istanbul, the Mediterranean coasts are a trove of landscapes, people, good food and
good wine. They brim with beauty and history. And winds, winds so old and pervasive that they have
names, depending on their direction. In and around tiny Garrigoles, not far from the Spanish-French
border, they call the nasty, cold air coming down from the mountains, Tramuntana.
Maybe it was the Tramuntana what took trumpeter Joan Mar Sauqué (b. 1996) from Garrigoles on to
the wider world. These days, that means Barcelona, one of the main jazz hubs in southern Europe,
where his sojourn in Joan Chamorroʼs Sant Andreu Jazz Band was a stepping stone. This turned out to be
a valuable stage in terms of pure learning and the particular camaraderie that big band playing has given
generations of musicians, as well as the chance to play with visiting stars, and a particular aesthetic
That outlook rides on the quiet waves made by the writing of Tadd Dameron, Gigi Gryce and the early
Quincy Jones, the sound of Art Farmer and Kenny Dorham, the short-lived whirlpool that was Oscar
Pettiford… what might be mapped through tired old beacons as “East-Coast Black Cool jazz”. Whatever
we call it, this is where Joan Mar feels at home, firm ground from where he can soar.
In jazz circles, adopting an aesthetic framework from the past, will raise the alarm of purist revivalism or
inane imitation, but this is not the case. Despite several precedents for this kind of trio, from Chet
Bakerʼs in Europe, Nicholas Paytonʼs on Fingerpainting (Verve, 1997), or even saxophonist Lucky
Thompsonʼs with Oscar Pettiford (ABC-Paramount, 1956) Sauquéʼs main motive is not a model from
without, but a decision from within: heʼs seeking clarity in sound, an easy, uncluttered way for the
listener to appreciate the music.
With that vision in mind, aided by guitarist Josep Traver (b. 1968) and bassist Giuseppe Campisi
(b. 1991), braving the pandemic together, with no headphones, Sauqué has produced a classic-style
album—12 tracks clocking at 40ʼ—of tunes mostly from the 1940s. Beyond his instrumental skills,
Sauqué happens to be quite the scholar regarding the music he loves, which explains the rather unusual
selection of repertoire, where melodies rule.
These songs speak for themselves, but a few pointers may be needed. With the melody prevailing over
soloistsʼ egos, the trio takes one minute sharp to dispatch Thad Jonesʼs Bitty Ditty, a brief appetizer,
preceding one of the cornerstones of the session: as far as we can tell, this is only the second recording
of My Dream, after the Harlan Leonard orchestraʼs in 1940, where its composer, Tadd Dameron, served
as principal arranger. Hearing the result, one wonders why no one else had thought of this. And this is
no happenstance: Sauqué scores another goal when he unearths another Dameron gem, Kitchenette
Across the Hall from 1948, which its author never got around to record commercially. In-depth
knowledge of the past is not the cause of Real-Book fatigue, but its remedy.
A “rhythm changes” with a different bridge, originally recorded by Dizzy Gillespie and his band in 1946,
Rayʼs Idea turns the spotlight on Campisiʼs bass, fittingly, given that “Ray” was Brown, a king of the
instrument. Traver, a versatile and forceful accompanist, has a chance to shine under the spotlight too.
Both sidemen take the floor again on another Dizzy big band staple, In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee, where
Sauqué manages to sound fresh and innocent with the cup mute. That sound returns in the lyrical
highlight of the record, Gigi Gryceʼs Strictly Romantic, one of those tunes which had the composer and
his young compatriots in the Lionel Hampton band literally sneaking out through windows in order to
put them on record.
Of the more common titles, two stand out as the opposite ends of Sauquéʼs range: Stompinʼ at the
Savoy is a showcase for his ability with the pixie+plunger combo—echoes from Ellingtonian jungles—,
while on Gone with the Wind he follows the routes opened by the second generation of boppers like Art
Farmer, no screaming or screeching, with a warm tone and some double-time flying.
As an art form where excellence is a long game, jazz may not the most suitable endeavour for this day
and age. Unless, of course, it is what you feel you have to do. This is the case for Sauqué, a man with a
clear idea of what needs to be done.
Wonderful unfussy music, classic but not archaic. And now that you’ve “heard of” these players, be sure to show off your new wisdom to your friends!
May your happiness increase!