With lush instrumentation and fearless improvisation, the Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble instantly captivates live audiences at intimate metro Detroit jazz hot spots.
The Ann Arbor jazz quartet melds spellbinding pieces of modern swing, funky soul and atmospheric world music right before an enthralled Dirty Dog Jazz Café crowd.
“That’s the heart of it and what I want people to experience at my shows. I want them to have a sense of knowing this is being created right now, and that they’re a part of it,” said Crozier, who plays bass, didgeridoo and thumb piano.
Crozier and bandmates Rafael Statin (sax, bass clarinet), Keaton Royer (piano, keys) and Rob Avsharian (drums) beautifully capture that magical live essence on their latest album, Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble Live, which is now available on all streaming platforms.
“I try to let the tracks develop with the band organically live and not over-direct it so they end up sounding fresher. When Rafael would start going off on something, the band could just follow and not have a particular set of instructions. It just really drew on the band’s ability to be spontaneous and organized in the moment,” Crozier said.
“You hear that in the little hookups rhythmically and the stuff the band does together. It’s just listening, which is what I always encourage in my group. It’s the heart of jazz. You’re playing what you’re playing, and you’re listening to make sure that you’re connecting and communicating with the rest of the band.”
H.O.M.E.S. to Kahil
Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble Live gently opens with the mellow, dreamy jazz-funk Great Lakes anthem, “H.O.M.E.S.,” as smooth fluttering sax, delicate chugging drums, soft cymbals, glistening keys and velvety bass drench listeners in 1970s-inspired jazz. “I really like ‘H.O.M.E.S.’ because of the quirkiness, and it has a cool, lopsided funk,” Crozier said.
Another jazzy Live Crozier gem includes “Leafar,” which is Rafael spelled backward as an affectionate sonic tribute to Statin. This brilliant new track provides a deep soulful groove for a clear, crisp autumn night and brilliantly shines in the star-filled sky.
Throughout “Leafar,” fruitful bass, thumping drum rolls and taps, tingling cymbals, thoughtful melodic piano and hearty tenor sax seamlessly envelope the Dirty Dog Jazz Café crowd.
“The bassline for ‘Leafar’ has been around since 1997, and it got used in another group that I was in. That was one of those weird basslines I came up with, and it just stuck with me. Rafael inspired me to do something with that track, and I tried to give it some shape because I had chord changes for it that were as old as the song. Then, I wrote the melody and decided to call it Leafar’s theme,” Crozier said.
The soulfulness of “Leafar” seamlessly transitions into the album’s other new hypnotic track, “Surrender.” The calm piano-sax-centric track submerges the Dirty Dog Jazz Café crowd in flowing waterfalls of calming jazz as their troubles slowly drift away. Soaring shimmery piano, light drum brush sweeps, swirling soprano sax and soothing bass provide a seven-minute auditory refreshment.
“When you write a piece that really encapsulates what you’re feeling at the moment, it means something, and you appreciate it. It’s self-actualizing to write something that really speaks the way you feel. When I wrote that song, it really spoke to me because I knew I needed to chill out, surrender and let go of stress,” said Crozier, who wrote the track in 2019.
In the peaceful spirit of “Surrender,” the entire Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble Live album soothes the crowd as the band performs mesmerizing deep cuts from Ocean Blue (2018), including “R is for Richko,” and “Highway Hypnosis” and “Song for Kahil” from Tall Trees (2017).
“I want them to listen to it and feel the live experience of it. That’s what we sound like live, and whenever all of this craziness lifts and live gigs start becoming more possible, then they should come and see us live,” Crozier said.
Jazzy Live Shows and Beginnings
Fortunately, Crozier continues to perform live outdoor socially distanced shows this fall at Weber’s Boutique Hotel in Ann Arbor. Known as “Jazz After Dark,” the intimate Friday and Saturday night shows feature Crozier with a rotating collective of local jazz legends, including Pete Siers, Phil Lesky, Tom Starr, Steve Wood, Roger Jones, Paul Vornhagen, Adam Moseley, David Alvarez and Evan Mercer.
“I always try and give whatever series I’m working the benefit of the tried and true people that I know and also mix in a couple of people who are recommended,” said Crozier, who’s inspired by Yusef Lateef, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Kahil El’Zabar.
Crozier started collaborating with local musicians while studying jazz guitar at Washtenaw Community College. In tandem with his studies, he played electric bass with several bands in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At that time, Crozier also met Dan Orcutt and joined The Nick Strange Band, who inspired him to add jazz to his growing repertoire.
By 2004, he played upright bass in the Sublingual Ensemble, a free jazz avant-garde group, and started applying improvisational techniques to music. Three years later, he enrolled in a jazz combo course at Eastern Michigan University and transferred to the University of Michigan to study jazz bass with Bob Hurst.
Crozier also met Statin while studying at U-M and eventually formed the Jazz Ensemble with him as well as Royer, Avsharian, Aron Kaufman, wife Kelly McDermott, stepdaughter Emma McDermott and godson Terry Jackson.
“The best contribution to the music that I perform is my sense of time and how I express that. As part of that, the bass expresses how I feel time because it’s a rhythmic, melodic instrument that gives me a lot of freedom and serves as a strong musical foundation,” Crozier said.
Crozier also shares his jazz experience through his music company, Eventjazz, which provides live jazz entertainment for weddings, parties and corporate events. He launched the company in 2012 after graduating from U-M and performing in different bands at special events throughout the community.
Today, Crozier continues to write new material for an upcoming album and composes mini TV, film and video scores for a sound library.
“I have this Pavlovian response to working at Weber’s where I get out my songwriting notebook, and I write songs on break because I collect points and get paid by BMI to play my own compositions. At this point, I have a couple of CDs worth of material ready to go for new projects, so that will be coming down the road next year,” Crozier said.