PHOTO: LAUREN DESBERG
Possessing a voice as cool and crystalline as an Alpine stream, Natalie Cressman is a rising singer/songwriter and trombonist who draws inspiration from a vast array of deep and powerful musical currents. Auburn Whisper—her latest album with guitarist, composer, and vocalist Ian Faquini—not only serves as a testament to the couple’s symbiotic musical partnership but also to their resilience during unprecedented times. Written and recorded in 2020, Auburn Whisper finds the two artists blending traditional Brazilian rhythms with modern, expansive arrangements—reflecting on people and places they miss while discovering joy within the present moment.
Steadily evolving in many directions, Cressman has already put down deep roots in several overlapping scenes. Currently splitting her time between New York City and the Bay Area, Cressman has become an accomplished trombonist and vocalist, performing in Broadway pit orchestras, recording a variety of solo projects, and building a following in the diverse realms of jazz, funk, and jam, including 12 years touring the jam band circuit as a horn player and vocalist with Phish's Trey Anastasio. Deeply versed in Latin jazz, post-bop, pop, and Brazilian music, she tapped the interlaced traditions on her first two solo albums, 2012’s Unfolding and 2014’s Turn the Sea.
She released The Traces EP in 2017, revealing her latest evolution, as she expanded her creative reach into post-production with meticulously crafted soundscaped tracks inspired by R&B and Indie Pop. The Traces EP follows on the heels of 2016’s Etchings in Amber, a gorgeous duo album with guitarist Mike Bono that introduced Cressman as a formidable musical force without her horn. Drawing from impressionism, jazz, and the great Brazilian songwriting tradition, 2019’s Setting Rays of Summer (he first release with Faquini) is a ten-track collection of original material featuring compositions in three different languages: Portuguese, English and French. With the warm instrumentation of acoustic guitar and trombone alongside two-part vocal harmonies hugging the Brazilian-accented Portuguese, Cressman & Faquini weave their musical voices together to create a fully orchestrated sound befitting a much larger ensemble.
When she’s not performing her own music, Cressman can be found collaborating with some of the most illustrious figures in rock, funk, jazz and beyond, which have included Carlos Santana, Phil Lesh, Dave Matthews, Phish, Big Gigantic, Greensky Bluegrass, Escort, Wycliffe Gordon, Nicholas Payton, Guinga, Anat Cohen, The Motet, and Umphrey's McGee. Her passion for groove music hasn’t diluted her love of jazz. In 2016 SFJAZZ commissioned her to develop music for a concert celebrating the legacy of jazz trombonist/arranger Melba Liston.
Her mother, Sandy Cressman, is a jazz vocalist who immersed herself deeply into the traditions of Brazilian music, collaborating with many of Brazil’s most respected musicians. Her father, Jeff Cressman, is a recording engineer and trombonist who recently concluded a two-decade run with Santana. Natalie quite naturally began studying trombone with her father, but set out to be a dancer rather than a musician. An aspiring ballet dancer until her junior year of high school, she changed courses when an injury sidelined her dance aspirations. Her parents provided entrée to a number of enviable opportunities, but Cressman's own prodigious gifts continued to merit her presence in any number of high-profile settings. She soon found herself playing salsa with Uruguayan percussionist Edgardo Cambon e Orquesta Candela, Latin jazz with Pete Escovedo's Latin Jazz Orchestra, world music with Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra, and globally-inspired avant-garde jazz with multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum, a close family friend.
Cressman traveled east in 2009 to study at the Manhattan School of Music, and the following year jam band pioneer Trey Anastasio recruited her for his touring band. He met Cressman at 18, and “was instantly floored by how melodically and naturally she played and sang,” Anastasio says. “Natalie is the rarest of musicians. Born into a musical family and raised in a home filled with the sounds of Brazilian music, jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms, musicality is in her DNA." Her far flung musical passions continue to bear new fruit, as her identity as a horn player and a singer/songwriter evolve in different directions. Playing funk trombone in arenas and cavernous theaters has required developing an aggressive new vocabulary of shouts, growls, smears and yelps, a la the JB Horns’ Fred Wesley. Her vocal work in increasingly intimate and rhythmically insinuating settings has revealed an artist who can thrive in any setting, from raucous, reverberant halls to packed and pulsing lofts and nightclubs. In an epoch marked by infinite musical possibilities, Natalie Cressman is a singular force who draws from an improbable breadth of sonic realms.