Review | Interview | Photos | Natalie Cressman | New York

Words by: Chadbyrne R. Dickens | Images by: Karina Rykman

Natalie Cressman & The Secret Garden :: 09.06.12 :: Drom :: New York, NY

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Natalie "Chainsaw" Cressman is a multi-instrumentalist, a triple-threat actress, dancer and singer, who has played at historic venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and extensively overseas; performed and recorded with countless greats including Miguel Zenon, Ingrid Jensen, Sheila E., Carlos Santana and Trey Anastasio. Her first album, Unfolding, was dropped on August 12, and submitted last month to the Grammy nominating committee in the Best Instrumental Jazz Category. The preceding accomplishments and many others belong to the extraordinary student at Manhattan School of Music, who recently turned 21 years old.

On September 6, she performed a CD release show at Drom, an intimate venue in New York City. A traditional and dark joint, straight out of a film noir, complete with shadows, candles, murals and dangling chandeliers, Drom offers an environment conducive to an exemplary jazz experience. Cressman, the trombonist and sole vocalist, was joined onstage by The Secret Garden; six trained musicians including: Chad Lefkowitz-Brown (tenor sax), Ivan Rosenberg (trumpet), Pascal LeBeouf (piano), Martin Nevin (bassist) and Jake Golby (drummer). With the exception of Nevin filling in for Rube Samano on bass, the players were the same core group that recorded in the studio. The band delved its way through classic numbers and songs from the newly released record that all in attendance were celebrating.

The band satisfied the audience through performances of the nine original compositions from the record influenced by multiple genres including Latin and Brazilian music. Unquestionably, as band leader, Cressman forged paths for the solid players behind her to follow. Prior to tackling a cover rendition of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” she stated, “We have a very different take on it” and subsequently delivered a meatier, funkier version of the standard. Cressman and her cohorts provided an alternate take on the non-originals performed throughout the show in an impressive and fresh manner. Her own compositions like “Flip” further proved Cressman’s skills on her horn with exemplary results, while “Waking” provided a call and response experience to remember. Her work with trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg was a magical demonstration of a formidable and powerful brass pairing.

Natalie Cressman and Peter Apfelbaum
by Karina Rykman
Later, Peter Apfelbaum, a fellow Northern Californian saxophonist who can claim having performed with The Grateful Dead and Phish, meshed his horn into the fray with nuance, emotion and reserved raw power. A Cressman mentor and family friend, Mr. Apfelbaum contributes on “That Kind”, the last track on the Unfolding album. When asked about Natalie, he said “She’s just an exceptionally good all-around musician. It's kind of ridiculous. Her sense of rhythm has always been very advanced, going back to when she was about 12 years old. And trombone is a hard instrument - the blowing part is easy, but most trombonists get confused by the slide and try to fight with it. As a result, they get tired quickly and start slowing down. But Natalie, partly from having had years of ballet training, has the arm technique you need to be able to really deal on the horn. And she can really sing, too.”

Cressman is well known and respected among her peers for her versatility. On any given night, between studying and sleep, one may find her sharing licks with talented NYC saxophonist Michael Kammers, adding a unique improvisation riff or background vocal to jam juggernauts The Heavy Pets or Kung Fu at the Brooklyn Bowl, joining her dear friend Jennifer Hartswick in the innovative disco outfit Wyllys & the NY Hustler Ensemble at Sullivan Hall, at one of many venues around her San Francisco hometown or a festival somewhere. Her band mate, Ivan Rosenberg, who she has known since she was 17 when they met at the Grammy Jazz ensembles said, “Natalie is one of those people that's just good at everything. She's an unbelievable composer, and one of the most thoughtful musicians I know. Her ability to transcend genres - play, sing, write, or arrange in any style really, really well is what impresses me most. You don't see that much.”

Natalie Cressman and Secret Garden
by Karina Rykman
Cressman’s popularity has increased immeasurably since the day two years ago when she was asked to replace her father, Jeff Cressman, as Trey’s trombonist, who had rejoined Santana. She has impressed everyone in her wake and continues to do so. Cressman is more effective engaging with her audience within the songs she is clearly very confident in. During these particular numbers, she consistently demonstrates the chops to become a bonafide front woman with a presence similar to Belinda Carlisle or a tempered Shirley Manson, even if her subtle style is more reminiscent of Joni Mitchell. She paid successful homage to Mitchell, who inspired her to become a singer years ago, with an interesting reworking of Charlie Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Hat” that was also once covered by Mitchell. The compositions she has constructed are very challenging to sing, and she conquers them in a successful manner while reminding us that her appeal is mainly due to her musicianship and sharp tools she possesses within her craft.

Ultimately, one doesn’t need to wield a chainsaw, like the drug dealers in the infamous scene from “Scarface”, to leave an impression; one with such a moniker only need to share their rare talent to make an indelible mark. Having played 39 shows over the past two years with The Trey Anastasio Band, and the 2012 tour having started this past week, with Trey claiming that Natalie “is an incredible player”, one should go see/hear for one’self.

Before her CD release show, I was fortunate to sit down with Miss Cressman to discuss her career.

Read on to check out the interview!

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