By Hrayr Attarian
Chad McCullough Forward
Chad McCullough – Trumpet
Rob Clearfield – Piano
Matt Ulery – Bass
Jon Deitemyer – Drums
In addition to his signature lyricism, trumpeter Chad McCullough has made a mark on the creative music scene with his imaginative writing. McCullough pays homage to Chicago on his brilliantly captivating Forward—his second release as a leader—with six of his impressionistic originals. McCullough fronts a synergistic quartet of some of Chicago’s most idiosyncratic musicians. Together, they bring immediacy and passion to these superlative pieces.
“Oak Park,” named after the Chicago suburb known for its Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, opens with pianist Rob Clearfield’s hypnotic chords over percolating drum and bass refrains. McCullough states the main melody with elegance before Clearfield takes a darkly shimmering solo with chiming notes and undulating tones. Cinematic flourishes from the group usher in the leader’s burnished, muted horn. McCullough launches into a stimulating improvisation that delights with its poetic sense and graceful economy of phrases.
The more dramatic “Focal Point” has a restless cadence and crystalline structure—propelled by drummer Jon Deitemyer's complex and agile polyrhythms. These burst to the surface with reserved emotion as he takes his turn in the spotlight. McCullough embellishes the melody with sinewy lines that meander around his sidemen’s percolating vamps with simmering emotion and sophisticated wit.
The laid back “Grace at the Gavel or Grace at the Gallows,” on the other hand, has a serene, pastoral ambience. The lilting theme dovetails into bassist Matt Ulery’s eloquent and wistful extemporization. McCullough’s own performance has acerbic tinges and hints of Americana motifs that warmly unfurl as he pushes the boundaries of the music with controlled spontaneity.
This superb and absorbing album comes to a close with the nostalgic “Water Tower Sunset.” Clearfield’s cascading keys and Deitemyer’s resonant beats coalesce around Ulery’s lithe reverberations. McCullough interprets the meandering tune with depth and ardent emotion, making it the perfect conclusion for this mesmerizing and sensuous work.
Forward demonstrates McCullough’s superlative and multifaceted artistry to its fullest. With maturity and confidence, the trumpeter approaches band leadership in a collaborative spirit. These attributes, together with the intricately textured compositions, make Forward an enchanting listening experience.