by John Yao

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Perhaps owing to his multicultural background, perhaps to the two cities he has called home—Chicago and New York City, and perhaps to his childhood switch from ivory keys to brass slide, trombonist, composer, bandleader, John Yao, has cultivated a musical identity that seamlessly encapsulates both duality and consonance, flow and flurry, mind and
spirit. Presence (See Tao Recordings), the second album released by the John Yao Quintet, is no less a mastery of these dichotomies than were Yao’s previous albums, In the Now (Innova, 2012), the Quintet’s first release, and Flip-Flop (See Tao Recordings, 2015), the big band debut from John Yao and His 17-piece Instrument.

One Jazzman; two distinct callings. Whether it’s the trombone or the pen, whether sharing the bandstand or leading it, and whether with his large or small ensemble, Yao heeds his callings with equal passion. Of Yao and In the Now, All About Jazz said, “the trombonist reveals golden tones and lyrical tendencies,” while Jazz Weekly wrote that, “Yao not only puts a fresh coat of paint to big band sounds, but redoes the foundation and expands a few rooms” with Flip-Flop.

Presence marks Yao’s return to the Quintet format, though the album is his third recording as a leader. The current ensemble features the return of saxophonist, Jon Irabagon, and pianist, Randy Ingram, as well as newcomers, bassist, Peter Brendler, and drummer, Shawn Baltazor. Featuring eight original compositions, Presence showcases Yao’s
growth and strength as a performer and composer.

The album is a journey through various musical styles, ranging from hard-hitting, funk tunes to lyrical, passionate ballads; and from straight-ahead, swinging post-bop to experimental, free jazz. However, the division of musical styles and moods has a singular purpose: These songs were written following the sudden passing of Yao’s closest friend and were a means of coping with this loss.

Dissonant harmonies combined with driving funk grooves on “Tight Rope” and “Over the Line” paint a dark, contemplative mood that provide ample space for sizzling solos from Irabagon and Yao. The simple, lyrical “1247
Chestnut” is a nostalgic return to Yao’s childhood home, and features duet with trombone and drums showcasing Yao’s compositional style as an improviser. The satirical, “Fuzzy Logic,” serves as a foundation for free-form collective improvisation, while “Presence” and “Nightfall” offer a light and colorful feel and a return to more conventional form
and structure. The album finishes with the straight-ahead, upbeat swinger, “Bouncy’s Bounce.”

All of the music on the album is dedicated to the memory of Yao’s late friend and pays homage to his on-going Presence in Yao’s life. Yao composed “M. Howard” as a celebratory tribute to his friend, using a rubato melody over a steady time-feel in the drums to create a floating sensation that closes with a spirited trombone solo by Yao.

All About Jazz wrote that In the Now, Yao’s debut Quintet album, “ straddles the down-the-middle modernism and the great beyond.” With Presence, Yao continues to straddle the dichotomous worlds of his unique musical identity as both composer and performer, while honoring someone dear who has passed on from this world to the Great Beyond.


released May 1, 2017

See Tao Recordings 003

John Yao, Trombone
Jon Irabagon, Soprano and Sopranino Saxes
Randy Ingram, Piano and Keyboards
Peter Brendler, Bass
Shawn Baltazor, Drums



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John Yao New York, New York

New York City based trombonist, composer, arranger and bandleader. Leader of two working bands, John Yao Quintet and John Yao & His 17-piece Instrument. Downbeat writes, "John Yao makes it clear he’s not content to stand still." All About Jazz says,
"Yao, a clear rising star with a lot to say, never says the same thing twice..."
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