High Noon: First Last Stand

If you didn’t know how old the members of High Noon were, you’d think nothing of age when listening to their debut album, First Last Stand.

Pictured from left to right: Brad Rogers, John Weisiger, Matt Nichols, Aaron Williams

High Noon
First Last Stand
(Self released, 2010)

If you didn’t know how old the members of High Noon are, you’d think nothing of age when listening to their debut album, First Last Stand. Maturity of sound isn’t everything, and while these eighteen-year-olds have only been playing their instruments but a few years compared to their elders, it’s the way they come together that makes their music special. It’s not all youthful jolly and acrobatic multi-metered performances, despite their age. In fact, it’s very little of that.

The four hail from three different Richmond area high schools, tenor saxophonist Aaron Williams and keyboardist John Weisiger both from James River High. They met bassist Brad Rogers and drummer Matt Nichols while playing together in VCU’s Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band and started exploring new and original compositions together. For all the talent each has on his instrument, the compositions on First Last Stand are the chief instigators and the creative impetuses that allow them to thrive as an ensemble.

Listen to “Island Cannibals”:

http://rvanews.net/sounds/Jazz/01%20Island%20Cannibals.mp3|titles=Island Cannibals|artists=High Noon]

Some tunes have many themes and sections that are all interconnected and give new backdrops for improvisation, or no solos at all. Like on the album’s lead off, Williams’s “Island Cannibals,” the band focuses tremendously to turn so many varieties of the same fruit into a meal.

The music in Weiseger’s “15 Wives” is as twisted as the polygamy that its title suggests. The talented pianist not only frames his own skills with impressive piano parts, but the layers of his composition add depth.

Writing lines in unison is a device used throughout the album’s six tunes, and it’s the first thing heard on the record between saxophone, keyboard, and bass. It’s a statement of sorts to double or triple a melody or theme that needs no reinforcing with harmony. At one point during the catchy jazz-rock “Odd Couple,” keyboardist Weisiger doubles the saxophone’s background ostinato with his right hand while playing the melody with his left hand in unison with the bass. Drummer Nichols brings the energy way down, and the effect is truly mesmerizing.

Listen to “Odd Couple”:

http://rvanews.net/sounds/Jazz/02%20Odd%20Couple.mp3|titles=Odd Couple|artists=High Noon]

Williams says it’s his appreciation for the small ensemble, as well as a duo playing workshop that he took with saxophonist JC Kuhl and drummer Brian Jones, that inspires him to use unisons in his compositions. A separate workshop with the band Kneebody at the School for Improvised Music in Brooklyn, NY, showed him a different approach. “Every member [of the band] learns every line of every composition by ear. This leads to some seriously spontaneous doubling.” Using the instruments available for the colors that he seeks, doubling lines allows Williams to fatten a sound where he sees fit.

Because of their age and most clubs’ unwillingness to let in under-agers, they say they’re presented with obstacles that most musicians in the area don’t have to deal with. They have played gigs that range from PTA meetings to opening up for No BS! Brass, dealing accordingly and still managing to catch as many performances as they can and being exposed to as much music as possible. It’s because of this exposure and the approachability of Richmond’s established musicians that Williams calls the Richmond jazz scene his greatest influence.

When young musicians have a wealth of creativity and the technique and tools to turn it into something, that’s when it’s special. All four musicians are beginning college pursuing either jazz or classical music performance, and their creativity should guide them to great places.

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Dean Christesen

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