Atwood Suites (Origin Records)

Andrew Rathbun Large Ensemble

Released June 15, 2018

Juno Award Nominee Jazz Album of the Year: Group 2019




An ambitious, multi-faceted composer, saxophonist and bandleader, Andrew Rathbun had used poetry as an inspirational catalyst for several recordings over the last 20 years. Particularly enamored by the works of famed novelist Margaret Atwood, Rathbun composed three suites for large ensemble featuring her poems and the unique voices of trumpeter Tim Hagans, drummer Bill Stewart and vocalists Luciana Souza and Aubrey Johnson, who vividly capture the imagery and emotions of Atwood’s poetry. Rathbun’s rich, multi-textured compositions and his use of the large ensemble as his musical voice was largely influenced by collaborations with the late, and legendary, trumpeter/composer Kenny Wheeler in the early 2000s. Wheeler’s supple, dark tones floating over the group and Luciano Souza’s voice bringing to life Atwood’s poetry inspired Rathbun to more deeply explore these concepts.

Track Listing:

Disc 1
1. Two Islands I 12:31
2. Two Islands II 5:50
3. Two Islands III 9:57
4. Power Politics I 6:30
5. Power Politics II 13:38
6. Power Politics III 9:41

Disc 2
1. Fractured 10:14
2. V 6:12
3. I 7:43
4. II 11:31

Composed & Arranged by Andrew Rathbun

Poetry by Margaret Atwood


Andrew Rathbun: director

Reeds: John O’Gallagher (soprano, alto saxophones), Ben Kono (alto saxophone, flute, clarinet), Quinsin Nachoff (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Dan Pratt (tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet), Carl Maraghi (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet)
Trumpet/Flugelhorn: Seneca Black (trumpet only), Matt Holman, Dave Smith, Russ Johnson
Trombone: Alan Ferber, Mike Fahie, JC Sanford, Chris Olness (bass)
Rhythm: Nate Radley (guitar), Jeremy Siskind (piano, Rhodes), David Ambrosio (bass), Bill Stewart (drums), Owen Howard (drums – disc 2: 1, 2)


Tim Hagans: flugelhorn (disc 1, soloist)

Luciana Souza: voice (disc 1)

Aubrey Johnson: voice (disc 2)

Produced by George Schuller and Andrew Rathbun
Recorded January 2016, at Systems II Recording, Brooklyn, NY, by Michael Marciano
Mixed and Mastered by Michael Marciano, Aug./Sept./Nov. 2017
Additional editing by Garrett Gagnon Aug. 2017
Photos of Andrew Rathbun, Daniel Gladstone by David Korchin
Cover design and layout by John Bishop


Andrew Rathbun is a Canadian saxophonist who has made a major musical statement here with this collection of suites, two of which are based on the poetry of author Margaret Atwood. Rathbun’s writing shows the influence of another Canadian, Kenny Wheeler, in its lush sonority, the frequent gorgeous flugelhorn solos by Tim Hagans and the role of Luciana Souza, who both sings Atwood’s poetry with gentle forcefulness and moans wordlessly within the orchestral ensembles, the same way Wheeler often utilized Norma Winstone
“Two Islands” begins with Souza singing simply over Jeremy Siskind’s piano. Then the entire ensemble comes in with a controlled turbulence propelled by Bill Stewart’s drumming and a beautiful, warm solo by Hagans whose flugelhorn is really featured within the darker, more somber sound of Part II. In Part III Stewart breaks down his drum beats like Joe Morello leading into soaring ensemble music with the rich fullness of Gil Evans. Souza sings brightly, Hagans does his thing again and saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff takes a hard swinging tenor solo.
“Power Politics” begins with Souza and Siskind again starkly declaiming Atwood’s words before the horns weave in. Hagans makes another strong, flowing statement and Souza’s voice becomes a wordless instrument melting into the massed surge of the ensemble. Siskind’s piano starts Part II with a dark, agitated bounce that leads into a tempestuous tug of war between the reeds and brass before Souza’s voice spreads over everything like a cooling balm. There are also strong solo statements by Hagans, trombonist Mike Fahie and tenor player Dan Pratt here. Part III is an extended slow-rolling climax underpinned by funky vamping from Stewart with massive group harmonies and a brawny, rippling alto solo from John O’Gallagher.
That is the meat of the set but there is a second CD with additional music. “Fractured” is a commentary on our current political situation with staccato horns and a stomping jazz-rock beat. Aubrey Johnson handles the wordless vocalizing this time and Siskind’s electric piano and Nate Radley’s burrowing guitar do an extended bit of jamming. There are also three movements from yet another, untitled suite full of wide, ambient harmonies, wary guitar and careful Bach-like progressions that bounce between piano, voice and the entire ensemble.
Andrew Rathbun is another contributor to that lineage of rich, impressionistic orchestral jazz that includes figures like Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider and Jim McNeely. He writes warm, intriguing melodies and can create powerful backgrounds for soloists. The ones he has here, especially Souza, Hagans and Stewart, are all excellent. This has been an exceptional year for large ensemble jazz recordings and this is one of the best.

Jerome Wilson (All About Jazz)