Comprised of founding members, Washington, DC-born, New York-based sibling duo Rashaan Carter (bass) and Russell Carter (drums), German-born, New York-based electronic music artist Emmanuel Ruffler, Georgia-born, New York-based Tivon Pennicott (saxophone) and Duane Eubanks (trumpet), the New York-based jazz quintet A Tree Grows features some of the city’s most accomplished and renowned jazz musicians — and arguably some of the city’s most accomplished musicians across any genre.
The quintet’s founding members, the sibling duo Rashaan Carter and Russell Carter were born in a very musical home as their father was a saxophonist and their mother, a radio programmer. Growing up, the Carters cut their teeth in the Washington, DC scene where they played with a number of locally and nationally renowned artists including the likes of Gary Thomas. Rashaan relocated to New York to attend New School University, where he began collaborating with a number of the school’s faculty members, including percussionist and composer Joe Chambers — and where he met future bandmate Emanuel Ruffler. Ruffler, a German-born, New York-based electronic music artist once won the grand prize in the Thelonious Monk Competition, has a songwriting credit on Meshell Ndegeocello’s “Aquarium” and has collaborated with world-famous designer Emanuel Ungaro, which led to Ruffler crafting the soundtrack for an ad campaign for an Ungaro-produced perfume. Georgia-born, New York-based Tivon Pennicott is a two-time Grammy winner and Thelonious Monk Competition runner-up, who is perhaps best known as a member of renowned, jazz-soul vocalist Gregory Porter’s backing band. Additionally while in college, Pennicott began playing with renowned guitarist Kenny Burrell, and as a result the Georgia-born, New York-based saxophonist has played in backing bands for Stevie Wonder and Wynton Marsalis among others. The Georgia-born, New York-based saxophonist has also collaborated with Esperanza Spalding on Radio Music Society and has toured as part of Al Foster‘s band. Finalizing the band’s lineup, Duane Eubanks is best known as a member of Dave Holland‘s two-time Grammy Award winning big band and as a member Mulgrew Miller’s band Wingspan. And as a result he’s played in some of the world’s most renowned and well-regarded music venues including Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center, as well as countless tours across Europe and Japan. Eubanks has crossed over into other genres as he recorded and toured with an incredibly diverse array of artists including The Temptations, Alicia Keys, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Wu-Tang Clan, Freedom Williams, Kirk Franklin and DeFunkt.
The jazz quintet’s self-titled EP was released earlier this year and while serving as a teaser for their forthcoming full-length effort, and if you had been following this site earlier this year, you may recall that I wrote about the band’s coolly atmospheric and funky first single “Wau Wau Water,” a composition that managed to evoke seething, bubbling and frothing water. Interestingly, as the members of the band explained each composition that appears on both the EP and their forthcoming LP is based around a different concept, describing and evoking a distinct state in the evolution of life on Earth as we know it. “The images are snapshots, extending from the beginning of life, to the emergence of emotions, to aspects of modern human life. The cycle closes with possibilities for future development: self-perpetuating intelligence. The composition ‘Wau Wau Water’ is based on the following concept: ‘Enzymes are forming in a prehistoric ocean — evolving into bacteria. A stew of life is brewing, the cycle starts and intensifies in this patch of fertile Wau Wau Water.” As the band’s Emanuel Ruffler added “Defining and discussing these concepts during the rehearsal and recording process created a sense of purpose among the musicians and a deeper engagement with the compositions. This has transformed our creative process.”
“Future Calculations” the EP’s latest single is a coolly swaggering strut of a composition that much like its preceding single owes a debt to bop-era jazz and jazz fusion as a propulsive yet wobbling and retro-futuristic bass line, played through copious wah wah pedal is paired with shuffling and deceptively complex syncopation and a boldly expressive melody from the band’s brass players. Clocking in at a little over 2:30, the composition is roomy enough to allow room for the brass players — primarily saxophone — to solo in a composition that rapidly shifts gears in a prog rock-like fashion, and while evoking the wonders of minute mysteries of nature, even in a large city.
The recently released video for the song follows a young girl, with an expressive and highly intelligent face wandering around New York with a small container of dirt and seeds, who stops by Central Park’s Strawberry Fields to let a jazz musician she encounters to take a look at the suddenly growing seedling, before she plants it in the park nearby to replace a fallen tree.