An Accidental Piano leads New Orleans Native Wayne Maureau to Record At the Water’s Edge
In September of 2021, Hurricane Ida blew through New Orleans. Fortunate to be spared damage to his own home, New Orleans drummer, composer, teacher, and bandleader Wayne Maureau began reaching out to friends to see how he could help. One thing led to another and before long Wayne was storing a number of instruments in his house- including an acoustic piano. With the realization that this was an opportunity not to be missed, Wayne began conceiving what would become At the Water’s Edge, his new trio album that thematically links the water-based life of New Orleans with one of the most popular jazz formats, the piano trio.
“I’m seeing this acoustic piano sitting in my studio everyday. I start thinking, this is an opportunity to make a trio record. When am I ever going to have an acoustic piano in my home studio? I’m certainly not going to buy one, you know, I don’t play the piano. And, I love the trio format. So I went back and started looking through songs that I had written and trying to decide which ones would be best suited for the trio.”
Water informs life in and around New Orleans. Surrounded by lakes, bayous, canals, one particularly famous river, and prone to torrential rains and hurricanes, it’s a city that has historically both embraced and struggled with water.
Water informs At the Water’s Edge too. As the name implies, each tune was composed with water in mind. The Avenue, a funky stroll with a melody reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s early 1960s output, was inspired by Elysian Fields Avenue, the only street in New Orleans that directly connects Lake Pontchartrain with the Mississippi River. As if he’s taking us up and down the street, pianist Jordan Baker delivers a bluesy stride influenced piano solo punctuated by 16th note passages, as he strolls, runs, and then slows back down to his regular pace on his walk down The Avenue. Electric bassist Brian Quezergue’s solo is more of an amble, with his use of broken rhythms suggesting he’s finding reasons to stop along the way.
The Samba inspired A Day in Paraty comes from Wayne’s visit to the Brazilian town of Paraty, where he played at a local festival and spent days wandering the water-bound city and taking in the music being performed on several stages. “Being there in the city and surrounded by that beautiful scenery, and seeing this incredible Brazilian music in Brazil really made a big emotional impact on me”, he says. Indeed, Maureau’s sizzling drums propel Baker and Quezergue to deliver on the vibe, resulting in a three way dance that highlights the trio’s tightness. A series of breaks, nicely contrasting with drums, spin the dancers back out into the streets of Paraty.
At the Water’s Edge features not just one great trio, but two great trios on the same record. While pianist Baker and electric bassist Quezergue throw down the modern Latin tinged funk, pianist Joe Ashlar and acoustic bassist Ed Wise provide a solid swing on tunes like Go With the Flow¸ whose rhythmically back-and-forth melody conjures images of a stream babbling merrily in the woods. Ashlar goes with the flow well, as he’s made to solo over Wise and Maureau breaking down the time before the current takes them deep into a swinging groove. Wise takes up the stream and turns in a fun solo full of forward momentum that showcases his vast knowledge of the bass tradition. As the song percolates along, Ashlar and Maureau deftly trade, their phrases running into and complimenting the other like so many tributaries converging into a river.
South Lake, named for the way a friend of Maureau’s refers to the city of New Orleans’ geographic relation to Lake Pontchartrain, comfortably grooves in seven. Pianist Ashlar struts his stuff and swings hard through a wide ranging solo that stretches far over the bar line. Maureau himself then completely obliterates any remaining bar lines with a solo that pulls and bends the time before settling his bandmates back into Wise’s unwavering groove.
Why two trios on one album? According to Wayne, “it just kind of happened that way”.
He goes on to explain, “I’ve worked with Brian many times over the years, and we’ve worked a lot of Latin and Brazilian gigs together, and I love the way he plays that style. So I definitely wanted to get him on some of the tunes that were more in that genre. Ed and I have known each other for years and we both teach at Loyola University. Ed’s a great straight ahead player, so I knew I wanted to have him on some of the more swinging straight ahead type stuff. And plus, both of those guys are just really easy to work with. Same thing for the piano players, Joe and Jordan are both guys that I’ve worked with on and off in different projects, and they’re great players that have a very different approach to the way they play. So I just picked guys that I had played with, that I enjoy playing with and who I thought would be musically suited to make the tunes come to life in the way that I envisioned.”
Being able to pick the guys you want to play with isn’t an option for just any musician, and speaks to Wayne’s lifelong career in New Orleans. A native of the city and a consummate sideman, he’s played with Walter Wolfman Washington and the Roadmasters, The Joe Krown trio, The Wolfman Trio, Mia Borders, Soul Project, Trifuncta, and the Funky Uncle All Stars. He also maintains a busy schedule often performing with John Papa Gros, The Garden District Trio, The John Mahoney Big Band, and Brazilian guitarist Giovanni Santos. At the Water’s Edge adds a stellar new project to the list.