Paul Dietrich (and His Quintet) Light Up the Night

Jazz trumpeter/composer launches his newest CD


My birthday last Friday was made special by two discoveries—one of which I had been pursuing for a couple of months. The venue was the kind of place anyone could drive past a hundred times in the Schenk Corners neighborhood and not realize what creative work was hatching within: the Arts+Literature Laboratory, at 2021 Winnebago St.

The performer who led me there was trumpeter/composer Paul Dietrich; he and his quintet gave a concert to launch the group’s second CD, Focus (pictured above). It was a couple of months ago I learned that Dietrich had been commissioned to write a new work for the 30th Isthmus Jazz Festival (“Scenes from Lake Mendota”). Unfortunately I missed the premiere, but learned a lot about Dietrich via an email interview that will be part of an article in Madison Magazine in September. When I explored his website, I was thrilled to learn of the July 7 event.

Most of the quintet members have Chicago connections and/or are based there, but Dietrich has made Madison his home. Following his first degree at Lawrence University in 2010, his graduate work at DePaul University saw his first major jazz compositions emerge. He now directs the Madison East High School Jazz Band and heads up the jazz department at Prairie Music and Arts in Sun Prairie, where he also teaches trumpet.

And it doesn’t take many minutes of hearing Dietrich play to know that he has plenty to teach. For that matter, it would seem he could easily end up at a college campus teaching composition as well. The concert Friday night was a complete live version of Focus, and it was the perfect way to get to know this group. The five players have been together since 2012, which means among other things that they are well along the way in developing the kind of instinctive interplay that one experiences from a well-seasoned string quartet. The members are Dietrich, tenor sax player Dustin Laurenzi, pianist Paul Bedal, Tim Ipsen on acoustic string bass and electric bass, and Andrew Green on drums.

All the music on the CD is by Dietrich, and it was fascinating to see that the group plays from written charts about half the time (of course there is plenty of improvisation in most of the tunes). When it comes to influences, Dietrich’s website seems to indicate that he’s an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink composer, seeking to infuse his music with everything from “classic and modern jazz to Western classical music, folk, progressive and other diverse genres.” That should just about cover it…

But it doesn’t really help (especially an “old dog” whose personal jazz tastes generally stop at about 1950 in terms of style) to describe Dietrich’s music. One aspect that stood out repeatedly is his fondness of unison lines with trumpet and tenor sax; the intonation of Laurenzi and Dietrich alone was arresting, but better still are that the melodic lines are consistently intriguing. Bedal flashed some nice sequences, and used the timbral possibilities of the Nord Electro keyboard effectively (he plays acoustic piano on the CD).

Ipsen has the chops to take over whole segments if he wanted to; his interweavings of lines proved ear-turning on many occasions. One great touch (and one is not sure whether to credit the composer or player) was the use of the bow for “Puddles,” one of several numbers where Dietrich conjures intensely somber—yet oddly inviting—moods.

Aside from Dietrich’s smooth mastery of his horn however, the hidden gem of this ensemble is percussionist Andrew Green. It really isn’t fair to call him a “drummer,” as he exhibits a seeming inexhaustible range of wonderful effects; his work with brushes is superb.

I’ve already heard the CD in just the odd driving over the weekend, and will probably wear it out before summer is done…happily, I can always get another copy at Bandcamp—and so should you. As for Arts+Literature Laboratory, they’ve got a number of great performers scheduled over the next three months, and many other arts activities. I have a feeling I’ll be back there soon.


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