When you’ve got Clint Eastwood offering you praise, you’re doing something right. Baritone saxophonist Adam Schroeder so impressed the filmmaker and jazz fan that Eastwood offered “Beautiful, beautiful! I love the way you play that cannon!” as his remarks.
And play that cannon he does, as Schroeder lets his horn shout out into the night with his debut. A Handful of Stars is more than a declaration of arrival for the musician; it’s a statement of intent, brimming with passion and ferocity in even the most intimate of moments.
Schroeder is joined on the record by some of today’s best players, including bassist John Clayton, drummer Jeff Hamilton and guitarist Graham Dechter.
It’s damn near impossible to ignore “that cannon,” though, as it forces open spaces into the arrangements and creates breathing room. It’s almost like a hulking hockey forward making room for the snipers, pushing bodies aside to create open ice and scoring chances. Too Canadian? Too bad.
“I’ve put many years into finding my voice,” Schroeder says. “I wanted this album to show what I can do. I wanted it to be a straight-ahead, no-frills, cut-to-the-chase representation of how I sound.”
Schroeder uses tracks from a wide variety of composers, including Quincy Jones, Cole Porter and Ellington & Strayhorn. There are a couple of Schroeder originals on A Handful of Stars, too, as if the Sioux City-born musician needed to prove anything else.
“I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyone But You)” opens the record with plenty of swing. Hamilton’s brush technique provides the basis for Schroeder’s attack. The young saxophonist rolls through his solos, matching Dechter’s guitar with surprising eloquence and unsurprising power.
The band heads in another direction entirely with “Hidden Within.” This time, Schroeder approaches from a slighter angle and blends into the Dechter-arranged ballad with poise and subtlety.
Schroeder’s own arrangements are impressive. His “Midwest Mash” is a spacious East Coaster that lets Dechter, Schroeder and Clayton take some time to extend their soloing work. Once again, Schroeder’s massive playing creates room for the other musicians and allows the sensuous grooves to really pop front and centre.
I can’t remember the last time I so enjoyed a jazz debut. Schroeder’s work is uninhibited and bold, shooting big notes into the darkness with the vigour of a confident, experienced player. This may only be the beginning of his journey as a leader, but Adam Schroeder has arrived and his “cannon” is one hell of a deadly weapon.