Saxophonist Rick Margitza’s resume reads like a who’s who of the jazz community. Over the course of his decades-long career, Margitza has recorded and performed with some of the jazz world’s most famed and respected figures, such as Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, and Miles Davis. For more than three decades, Margitza has been making music in some capacity. Yet, for all the work that he has done throughout his career, the last time that he released a solo record as a band leader (as opposed to an accompanist) was 17 years ago in the form of 2004’s Bohemia. Early this month, Margitza ended that drought when he released Sacred Hearts. The 11-song record was released Feb. 5 through Le Coq Records, and offers much for audiences to appreciate, beginning with its very packaging. This aspect will be discussed shortly. The musical arrangements that make up the body of the record add to its appeal. They will be discussed a little later. The album’s production puts the final touch to its presentation. It will be discussed later, too. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of this album. All things considered, they make the album one of this year’s top new jazz albums.
Sacred Hearts, thefirst new solo album in more than 15 years (17 years to be exact) from Rick Margitza, is a positive return for the veteran saxophonist. It is a presentation that will appeal to any modern jazz fan just as much as his existing catalog. That is due in no small part to the album’s packaging. The packaging is important to the album’s presentation in that it features “liner notes” of sorts that actually give some background on each of the album’s songs. Audiences learn through the “notes” that for the most part, the songs are dedicated to someone who Margitza knows. The one exception to that rule is ‘Trail of Tears,’ which according to the “notes,” “is for all the people who have died under the hands of social injustice.” These notes are all so important to address because providing even such minimal notation is rare to nonexistent in jazz albums. Jazz fans, unlike those of most other genres, are largely left to have to interpret the titles and arrangements in their music for themselves. The only way for those fans to really gain insight into the songs – save for miraculously having such minimal background information — is to either read or hear interviews with acts on radio/TV, or to get it direct from the acts at concerts. Not having even that most basic of information is actually detrimental to jazz records, so to have it here builds a good foundation for the record. That is because in having a basic understanding of the songs’ purposes, audiences will find themselves even more engaged in the songs. So again, to this end, having even the slightest background on the songs here is key to this album’s presentation. It is just one of the record’s most important elements. The arrangements themselves add to the engagement in and enjoyment of Sacred Hearts.
The musical arrangements that make up the body of Sacred Hearts are important in part because they connect so well to the songs’ titles. Case in point is the arrangement featured in ’12-123.’ According to the song’s description, the song is a celebratory work that honors Margitza’s family. He notes in the description that the song “is for all the new life in our family.” The song’s upbeat but still controlled stylistic approach translates well, the happiness felt by being among family. Margitza’s performance on the saxophone, Jeff Boudreaux’s timekeeping, joins with the subtle percussion, piano, and vibraphone here to make the arrangement so engaging and entertaining. It does so well, again, to echo the emotions felt about a growing family, whether it be through marriage, the birth of a new child, or both. It will surely put a smile on any listener’s face. That is even more certain considering that this arrangement so easily lends itself to works from the likes of Margitza’s jazz counterparts in Yellowjackets.
‘Trail of Tears,’ which comes late in the album’s run is another example of the importance of the album’s featured arrangements. It has already been noted that the song is a response to what has happened to Americans throughout America’s history due to social injustice. The somber tone exhibited through the arrangement does well to illustrate the mood and emotions of those who have been wronged by the system and by their friends and family. Margitza himself is largely to thank for that, through his performance. The accompaniment of the piano and subtle time keeping adds even more to the arrangement’s depth. What’s more, it would have been so easy for Margitza to have gone perhaps in a more avant-garde direction here, considering the theme here. To have taken the alternate path leads to even more emotional impact. Kudos to all involved here for making such a work instead. It is just one more way in which the arrangements featured in this recording serve so well, to show their importance to the album’s whole. It certainly is not the last example of how the arrangements show their importance, either. ‘Muse’ is yet another way in which the album’s musical arrangements show their importance. According to the information printed in album’s packaging, the song is meant as a tribute “for all the extraordinary artists who have shaped my life.” The statement is illustrated throughout the song through the use of musical styles from different jazz sub-genres and eras. The 10-minute-plus composition opens with a distinct Weather Report type approach before eventually changing gears and turning in a more modern approach a la John Coltrane. The style evolves again from there, becoming even more modern. Simply put, the song really does pay tribute to Margitza’s forebears. It’s one more way in which this album’s musical content proves so important to its whole. When this arrangement is considered along with the others noted here and the rest of the record’s compositions, the whole leaves no doubt as to the importance of the album’s musical content.
While the packaging and content featured in Margitza’s latest album are equally important in their own way to the whole of the album’s presentation, they are just a portion of what makes the record successful. The production that went into each composition is also worth examining. The production that went into crafting each arrangement ensures that each instrument is expertly balanced with its counterparts within each composition. Even the rare instances in which the vocals are added to the whole, their subtle, airy nature gives those arrangements even more richness. All in all, whether it be in the more complex songs or the simpler works (which require their own share of focus because there is less instrumentation – it is easy to get lax with simpler compositions) the production presented throughout this record brings out the best in each work. When this is considered along with the importance of the album’s packaging and its content, the whole of the album makes itself a viable new listening option for any jazz aficionado.
Rick Margitza’s new album Sacred Hearts is a presentation that any jazz purist will find appealing. That is proven in part through its packaging. The packaging offers at least some background on the songs. That background, while minimal, at least gives audiences a starting point in listening to the songs and appreciating them. The arrangements themselves match well with the titles. Audiences will agree after reading through the titles and the brief background information in the packaging. The record’s production puts the finishing touch to its presentation, bringing out the best in each composition. Each item noted here is key in its own way to the whole of the record’s presentation. All things considered, they make the album in whole a viable contender for a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s top new jazz/blues albums. Sacred Hearts is available now. More information on the album is available along with all of Rick Margitza’s latest news at https://www.facebook.com/rmargitza.
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