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Collective Action: The Third Law Collective Records Saturday

Third Law Collective

The last year or so has seen an explosion of recordings by Cleveland improvising artists such as Kent Engelhardt and Stephen Enos, Kevin Martinez’s Reclamation Band, Alla Boara, Bobby Selvaggio, TRIAD, a new project by Dominick Farinacci (more about that one soon) and a forthcoming Cleveland Jazz Orchestra anniversary release.

Into this hive of activity by established artists comes an ambitious live recording date Saturday night by a band that is scarcely more than a year old. Youthful overreach? Not when the band is the Third Law, the composers collective that is a veritable all-ages writers room for some of the most interesting large ensemble jazz being made around here.

You can find more detail about the Collective’s backstory in this preview of their first concert in January 2023, but here’s a refresher TLDR. The Collective first gathered in 2021 as a sort of rehearsal band to read down compositions by the six core players, reedists Chris Coles, Howie Smith and Brad Wagner, guitarist Dan Bruce, bassist Aidan Plank and flutist Bryan Kennard who, in his capacity as director of BOP Stop, gave the band a home and a guaranteed date on the last Thursday of every month.

In time, they were joined by others, including Garrett Folger, a trumpeter and emerging composer in his own right, trombonist Jason Smith,  pianist Joe Leaman and drummer Anthony Taddeo, all of whom will be part of the recording band.

Despite the high level of playing expected from musicians of this caliber, a recording was not on the Collective’s immediate punch list, but a grant from Cleveland’s Bascom Little Fund changed all that. The grant also enabled the Collective to take another big step by engaging a guest artist.

A guest artist who can play anything

Russ Johnson

He’s Russ Johnson and he just might be the most interesting trumpet player you’ve never heard of. Blame his echt-Midwestern name (he’s from Wisconsin) or the fact that he works—a lot—mainly around Chicago. But Johnson was a mainstay of New York’s omnivorous ‘90s Downtown Scene centered in the Knitting Factory. He can seemingly play anything.

That’s him tackling arrangements of Shostakovich with a cast of Downtown all-stars on Michael Bates’ “Acrobat” (Sunnyside Records, 2012), and that’s him opposite cool jazz legend Lee Konitz on “New Nonet” (Omnitone, 2006). It’s also him you hear on the soundtrack of the HBO feature “Undefeated.”

That’s range and it’s something that Johnson, 58, savors. “It’s funny how people think of you as being this or this or this,” he said from his attic office in Wisconsin where he is also director of jazz studies at the University of Wisconsin Parkside. “I am too out for the in-guys and too in for the out-guys, and I like living in that space. I love playing tunes. I love playing changes. I also love to improvise. They’re all connected. Music’s music, man.”

Laying down the sound of The Law

Johnson also relishes the challenge of taking on new music and the members of the Collective are ready with charts. Folger is bringing a pair of charts, Ditto Plank, including “Looking Deeply,” a richly voiced arrangement touched by the bassist’s singing lyricism. “There’s not a lot of things to navigate there so there’s a lot of room to go in very open directions,” the bassist said on a three-way Zoom convo with Johnson and Kennard.

The flutist is bringing two Third Law staples to the session. “Walk With Me,” was on the stands of the players in 2021 at the first date of what would later become the Collective. “Song for Daring” was an octet arrangement that Kennard expanded for the full group. A third composition is on his desk and Kennard hopes find time to finish it when he’s not being a jazz club director and daddy of a newborn.

Building a perpetual motion machine

That’s a tall order, but then so is recording. So too is building and sustaining a composers collective that can act as a perpetual motion machine of writing and playing opportunities, one that will drive the local scene, perhaps in unexpected directions.

I think there is an interest to continue to branch out and see if this group can develop a wider recognition, a wider personality,” Kennard said about the Collective. Saturday’s recording, hopefully ready for release next year, will be a crucial temperature check of their success.

Third Law Collective Live Recording wsg Russ Johnson, Sat., April 27, 8 p.m., BOP STOP, 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. Tickets $25 available here.

NOTE: This article was written by a real human being. No artificial intelligence or generative language models were used in its creation.

Red beans and ricely yours,