Rob Wagner's saxophone doesn't collect dust. His resume currently includes funk/hip-hop band Iris May Tango, the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, Cuban keepers of the flame Los Vecinos, and irreverent jokesters Elvis Marsalis. He has weekly gigs Mondays at d.b.a. on one end of Frenchmen Street, and Sundays at the Dragon's Den at the other end of Frenchmen Street. Recently Wagner has added the Seaport on Bourbon Street to his schedule. Venues aside, Wagner is best heard when fronting the Rob Wagner Trio -- which makes its Jazz Fest debut this Saturday, April 26.
The trio mixes the abstractness of Sam Rivers with the lyricism and strength of Sonny Rollins. And sometimes Wagner pulls off the over-blowing of Marshall Allen and the multi-saxophone lines of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. For his Jazz Fest performance, Wagner will be playing selections from his new CD, Walking, Crying, Laughing, Running, which has beautiful melodies and group interplay between Wagner, bassist James Singleton and James Alsanders. It's a perfect follow-up to his self-titled debut CD, another superb effort that featured Kevin O'Day in the drum chair. Walking, Crying, Laughing, Running was recorded at the Piety Street Recording studio in the Bywater by master engineer Mark Bingham and produced by uber-jazz fan-turned-producer Benjamin Lyons. Unlike many recordings these days that sound like they were made in a sterile, germ-free environment, this one has warmth and depth that's reflected in Wagner's playing. He can take his saxophone through screaming runs into the stratosphere on "Kio's Song," but he also can blow a calm, beautiful solo on "Peaceful," like an arrow straight to your heart.
Wagner is understandably proud of the new CD. He wrote all the songs, and can't pin down his favorite song on the disc. "It changes every day," he says. That response fits the musical and emotional spectrum of Wagner's diverse art, and the dichotomies of Walking, Crying, Laughing, Running. "Sometimes I like one better than the next one, and the next day it's different."
- Scott Saltzman
- Saxophonist Rob Wagner in action at his weekly Monday night gig at d.b.a.