Audio Review: Maniacal 4 – Open House


Open House
Maniacal 4
Carl Lundgren, Tenor Trombone
Nick Laufer, Tenor Trombone
Alex Dubrov, Tenor Trombone
Matt Jefferson, Bass Trombone
Josh Hanlon, Piano
Stockton Helbing, Drums
Noel Johnston, Guitar
James Driscoll, Bass

Maniacal 4 is a group of four trombone guys that love music and exploring new avenues of music-making. How they came to the group “Maniacal”  how every group should form an ensemble name – just use the first two letters from your first name. And a group was born. A talented group while attending the University of North Texas, they won the ITA Quartet Competition in 2009, and since then, they have traveled the globe while pushing the envelope of “traditional” trombone quartet music. Yes, these guys can play the quartet standards, but what makes them unique is the concept of adding their personal flavor to music. Read this post from one of their masterclasses at Ohio University in 2015. This YouTube video (with over 1.7 million hits) was what helped bring this group to the forefront in music.

Their first recording, Carry On (2013), is a collection of some of the greatest rock tunes from the 1970s played by a trombone quartet with a rhythm section. Their second album, Open House (2016), is a collection of original compositions and arrangements from a variety of styles such as jazz, rock, classical, country, and pop.

The first song, “Carcasonne” starts off with syncopated passing between three trombones followed by a bass trombone/rhythm section entrance sliding into a jazzy melody played by one trombone backed by the rest of the ensemble. The kick into the double feel shows the diversity of styles that the melody can take throughout a track. The name of this track and its inspiration comes from the video version of the classic board game.

The second track, “Waterdeep” starts off with a mixed meter feel with the piano followed by the ensemble’s entrance. As the piece continues to mesh jazz with other styles, the ensemble allows for the pianist to improv along with a basic beat. My favorite part of this track is the bass trombone and bass guitar playing in unison at the 3:23 mark. This aspect of the track shows the flexibility that a bass trombone can have with an electronic stringed instrument.

Following these first two tracks is the title track, “Open House,” which opens with a free moving ballade-like melody performed by the bass trombonist. This gorgeous slower song was written by M4’s own member, Carl Lundgren. The intricate harmonies produced on this track really showcase the group’s cohesion as an ensemble.

The next track shows off the ensemble’s talent at arranging a classic country song – “Wichita Lineman.” The song made famous by Glen Campbell is performed beautifully as the quartet passes the melody between each member. Also, worth noting is the fact that the rhythm section gives a classic country feel to the song – Thank you, rhythm section! For me, a fan of country music, I believe this arrangement truly shows off what a trombone can do by exactly hitting the vocal inflexions heard from the vocal version of this song. M4, this track is MY FAVORITE TRACK from this album.

Track 5 is another arrangement by the group. “Home” was originally recorded by the band Zero 7 on their album When It Falls (2004). The song shows a gradual expansion among the ensemble as well as arrival point with the harmonies.  Again, the combination of guitar and trombone sounds show that we may need more recordings and performances like this. It is a wonderful and soothing mesh of these two instruments. All in all, another excellent arrangement to a great song.

“Colorado” was written for the M4’s appearance at the 2014 Colorado Trombone Festival. The rhythmic drive from the piece is really strengthened by the bass trombonist’s control of the instrument and playing in unison with the guitar.
Note: I am beginning to sound a little biased to a certain instrument – it’s for obvious reasons.

The final selection on this album has special significance to M4 due to the fact that the music was inspired by their teachers at UNT, Vern and Jan Kagarice. As the story goes, Vern had received a melody and some chord symbols with the intent of him writing a song for his wife. When Vern received the music, he decided to have Carl Lundgren, one of his students at the time, complete the composition. Putting it off for a few years, M4 finished writing the piece with hopes to surprise Jan. Unfortunately in 2014, Vern passed away and never heard the piece. This beatiful work shows the varied styles that this ensemble can perform. In a capella-like voices, the trombone quartet beautiful allows the melody to be primary with countermelodies and harmonies to flourish but not impose. A beautiful and soothing composition.

Overall, Maniacal 4 understands music. What I mean by that is they understand that music is merely a form of communication. Whether it is tension and complexity or unity and simplicity, each of the tracks on this album exists as a form of expression. M4 is not afraid to push the boundaries of music and collaboration. We are seeing it more and more among musicians who combine instruments and harmonies in a way that has not been done before. Many times while repeatedly listening to this album, I found myself saying “Yes!” when I would hear a solo performed with a trombone and guitar in unison. For the aspiring trombone player or ensemble musician, M4 shows that you are truly capable of joining your fellow musicians to CREATE something ex nihilo that expresses an emotion. More musicians need to pay attention to what M4 is doing and then personally explore creativity through the avenue of music.

To purchase the album, click here.

To learn more about Maniacal 4, click here.

For Nick Laufer, click here.

For Matt Jefferson, click here.

Jeremy Smith

Jeremy Smith is a trombonist, brass teacher, and blogger. He studied music performance at both Grace College and Carnegie Mellon University, and currently is the bass trombonist for Orchestra Iowa and the Huntington Symphony Orchestra. In 2014, Jeremy started Last Row Music as an online resource of job postings and artist links for brass musicians around the world. When he is not performing or blogging, Jeremy is giving brass lessons to students throughout the country from his home in Centerburg, Ohio.