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Range of Motion

Jack Mouse Group, with Bob Bowman and more

Jack Mouse, Chicago jazz-scene staple, has moved back to his hometown of Emporia, Kansas, after decades away. Years ago, drummer and bandleader Mouse helped host the Clark Terry Great Plains Jazz Camp at Emporia State, a launching pad and proving ground for thousands of Kansas and Missouri youth. I met Jack there. He is who taught me how to vary the ride cymbal pattern, one of the jazz drummer’s first steps. And now Mouse, who has been in Emporia since September, greets me and a number of our local jazzers with a hug and, “Good to see you, my boy.”

Mouse has a number of albums out, and many of the newer ones are his brainchildren, including the 2012 album, RANGE OF MOTION, which features KC’s own Bob Bowman on bass, a long-time collaborator and friend of Mouse’s. The album also features Scott Robinson on tenor and soprano sax and flute, Art Davis on trumpet and flugelhorn, John McLean on guitar, and Kelly Sill on bass on the alternating tracks Bowman does not play.

Mouse is a pro, an elder statesman returned to the wheat-field Midwest, directly after the first and middle surges of the pandemic. Mouse and his wife, acclaimed jazz singer Janice Borla, spent their time wisely during the live jazz shut-down. They recorded a “sandbox” series, mainly from their home, it appears. Along with “Jack Mouse Group: RANGE OF MOTION,” there’s a lot to show during the last decade. There are plenty of records of Mouse at work: as composer, bandleader, and masterful drummer. On NEON JAZZ with Joe Dimino, Mouse said, “We got through the pandemic pretty much unscathed…We got through it better than a lot of folks.”

Mouse has a long and storied history as a performer. In his late teens Mouse was already performing with jazz greats like Red Norvo, having shown extraordinary promise as a little kid. He started drums at age four and studied during his early years with local drummer and teacher Roy Burns, “who just passed on a few years ago,” Mouse said on NEON JAZZ. “(Burns was) one of the very first drum clinicians, who…was the founder of the Finger Control Method and …ended up founding the Aquarian Drumhead company, and Roy looked after me, pretty much from when I was four years old until he passed…He was eleven years older than I was…I studied with him and…(I) went to the College of Emporia…It had an incredible music department. In fact, it hosted the first collegiate jazz festival in Kansas…They brought Buddy Morrow in, one year, and Buddy ended up hiring me before I got out of college…and Clark Terry, who I ended up working for, for a long time.” After college, according to his website, Mouse “spent three years as featured soloist with the ‘Falconaires,’ the official jazz ensemble of the U.S. Air Force Academy.” Mouse’s was a prodigal start, one that blossomed and dovetailed into a long, promising, far-reaching career.

RANGE OF MOTION features Mouse’s original compositions and “received extensive international radio airplay, including 5 weeks on the JAZZ WEEK TOP 50 CHART and 9 weeks on the CMJ TOP 40 CHART,” according to Mouse’s website. ALL ABOUT JAZZ called Mouse’s work on the album that of a “sure-handed, high energy drummer who dazzles with brushes. A splendid album, well-written and quarterbacked by Mouse…Thumbs up!”

The album is energetic and consummately played. It is straight-ahead and grooves hard, and, in some ways, the album charts a kind of history of all of the places Mouse has been and all the fantastic players with whom he has shared the stage. There are flavors of a diverse performing background in Mouse’s tunes and Mouse’s playing, and there is something distilled, a kind of punchy minimalism. Mouse uses two or three notes, quickly, on the drumhead, where others might use five or even a dozen. But Mouse’s way sounds better: cleaner, smarter, wiser.

Bowman plays particularly engagingly and plaintively on track 2 (“Winterset”), where he has the intro of a quiet, dreamy lean ballad. Bowman’s low notes anchor the tune: deep, full, propulsive. Mouse ornaments the tune with sparse, thoughtful brush and cymbal work: lots of in-time, but syncopated, lightly fanned snare drum taps along with cymbal rolls and hi-hat splashes of color. McLean on guitar buttresses the tune with warm chords.

The album draws and holds attention. It captivates. Dreamy “Winterset” is directly followed by a spunky funky tune, “Hip Check,” where trumpeter Art Davis brassily rocks the tune’s head, which is full of kicks, followed by a groovin’, electric solo by McLean on guitar, who makes good use of the melody’s stop-and-go form.

After decades away in Chicago, his old home, for many it is a joy to know Mouse is once again nearby, only 120 miles from KC. Likely, he will make his way to KC stages again, once he is settled in. For now, there is this fine album, among many others. And, for drummers, there is a new method book, one Mouse has written, compiling his knowledge and wisdom over decades, and putting it at last on a set of bound pages—for beginners, pros and devotees, and those also somewhere in the middle.

—Kevin Rabas

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