Radar: Take a Majestic Orchestral Journey with Michael Leonhart on 'The Painted Lady Suite'

Jun 15, 2018

One day, reading a story to my son Nate, who was 2 at the time, I asked if he'd thought about what he wanted to be when he grew up. He gave me a studied look, paused, and replied: “I think a doctor.” I beamed, and the studied look remained as he continued, “or maybe a turtle.” Startled, and at the same time welling with laughter, I wondered: when exactly did we lose this ability to wander? To simply be? 

For the thinking musician, this ability is often not lost, but rather fuel to create something new, inspiring and worthy of investigation.

For trumpeter and composer Michael Leonhart, it was as chaperone on his then first-grade son Milo’s field trip to check out the Painted Lady Butterfly.

The Painted Lady Suite Is Leonhart’s musical travelogue through the life, 9000-mile migration and flight pattern of a sometimes 70-mile wide swarm that navigates updrafts and more en route to its destination in the Sahara.

With exceptional musicians, including guitarist Nels Cline, saxophonist Donny McCaslin and many others, we take flight with Leonhart on this extravagantly painted seven-part suite. There’s also a musical analog to Milo’s journey, marching confidently from toddlerhood toward the joy and discovery of a young boy today. “Music Your Grandparents Would Like” feels like the intersection of Ellington and Zappa, with Cline’s inventive guitar out front. And Michael’s closer, “The Girl From Udaipur,” depicts a family trip to India, highlighted by some haunting baritone sax imagery from Ian Hendrickson-Smith

No passports needed. No packing bags. Just a sense of freedom to travel; the same sense Michael Leonhart mines to create this majestic new recording.

The Painted Lady Suite will be released on Sunnyside Records on June 22.

The Michael Leonhart Orchestra featuring Nels Cline will appear on July 17 and 18 at Jazz Standard.