Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Big Band Music Sounds Abound with Three New Albums

John Fedchock's New York Big Band
There appears to be resurgence in offerings from big band ensembles this year. Big bands have made a vital comeback fueled on by modern, enlivened arrangements and buttressed by stalwart musicianship. New and exciting scores, some years in the making, are being offered by an ever increasing number of composer/arrangers who enlist groups of talented musicians to help them make their music a reality. The results are some of the year’s most inspiring and compelling musical offerings.

This revival defies the market driven logic that dismisses music unless it can be justified on a purely economic basis.  In pop music, today’s ephemeral “hit” culture has homogenized the creative output of many of today’s best selling artists. Manipulated music machines seem to crank out mostly vacuous sounds that melt into obscurity almost as fast as they appear, like snowflakes on your heated windshield. 

Large ensemble music and orchestras have no such illusory goal. No matter how economically difficult it is to assemble, compose, arrange and record these types of groups, they exist because they provide a sound that simply cannot be duplicated by small ensembles. A  big, bold, sometimes brash, sometimes elegant, orchestrated sound that cannot be created in any other way. For musicians these bands offer a chance to share in a collaborative effort that rises above individual expression.   Many of these ventures would never see the light of day without the dedication and drive of their composer/arrangers, the largess of public/private funding sources and the commitment of so many fine musicians, studios and patrons of this musical form.  Take the power and majesty of well orchestrated music and add the unpredictable creativity of improvised solos and you have an art form that some believe is at the apex of man’s artistic musical achievements. 

Several  ‘big bands” have made their mark in contemporary jazz in recent years . The Village Vanguard Orchestra, The Mingus Legacy Big Band, The Maria Schneider Orchestra , The HR Big Band and The Brooklyn Babylon Orchestra of D’Arcy James Argue come to mind.

Unlike the big bands of the thirties forties , fifties and even sixties, these guys and gals don’t have the advantage of working together on the road night after night, living and breathing the music as a team, honing their parts, tweaking their sounds and most importantly learning the crucial art of interaction.  
Today these bands operate much like film crews making a movie. The script in this case is the score, which the composer/arranger, much like a director of a film, may work on for months if not years. Instead of actors, film editors, cinematographers and prop men each specialists of their respective crafts, you have the musicians, each masters of their respective instruments and recording engineers working to capture the fidelity of the sound. This freelance approach allows the best to come together briefly for a project and then disperse to their individual careers.  The result can be ill conceived or a Technicolor blockbuster!

Today’s  composer/arrangers are utilizing more modern sounds and techniques creating musical landscapes that can immerse one into a suspended sensory state.  Here are a  just three of the offerings that I have had the pleasure of listening to recently.

John Fedchock: New York Big Band Like It Is Mama MAA1048

John Fedchock’s  New York Big Band  Like It Is:

Trombonist/arranger/composer  John Fedchock’s New York Big Band has re-entered the field with his latest top notch offering  Like It Is. Fedchock   has taken  some  standards from the American Songbook like  Arthur Schwartz’s “You the Night and The Music”  Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me”  and  Jay Livingston’s  “Never Let Me Go “ and re-imagined them around the tightly orchestrated  sounds of his formidable New York Band.  Not content to play other people’s music, Fedchock’s own compositions include  “Just Sayin’, “ “Hair of The Dog,” Havana” and “Ten Thirty 30” and are wonderful vehicles for his big band sound- a skillful blend of brass, reed and rhythm  that is superbly executed. He creates exquisite backdrops for soaring solos by members of his band. His subtle use of subdued choruses behind sensitive solos  allow for some intimate and expressive ballad work.

Right from the start, the dynamic front line on “You the Night and The Music” contains an exquisitely  paced trombone lead by Fedchock, and  stirring solos by Mark Vinci  on alto and Rich Perry on tenor, making  this swinger a pure joy.

“Just Sayin’ “has an easy “cha cha” vibe with some nice alto work by Charles Pillow and some steaming trumpet by Barry Ries.  Bobby Sanabria’s deft percussive accents add to the authenticity of the Latin vibe.

Jay Livingston’s “Never Let Me Go” features a lush arrangement using a multi-layered approach, with Fedchock providing a somber, achingly beautiful trombone solo that is not to be missed.

The Wayne Shorter inspired “Just Sayin’” is a medium swing tempo piece  with  soprano work by Charles Pillow  that sails over this groovin’  band until the horn section transition leads to another moving Fedchock trombone solo.

Cedar Walton’s “Ojos De Rojo.” Is a Latin influenced song with a stirring piano solo by Allen Farnham. The rhythm section of Dave Rataczak, Dick Scapola and Bobby Sanabria keep this one on track. Gary Smulyan’s boisterous baritone provides a raucous voice over the punctuated splashes of Fedchock’s brass section. At the coda Scott Wendholt’s trumpet trades barbs with Smulyan’s Bari ending with a rambunctious solo by Ratajczak on drums.

Fedchock’s “Hair of the Dog” is a progressive piece that starts out slow as if you are dreamily awakening from a stupor, soon you realize that the only way out is to shake it up again and get yourself out of this  funk. The band simmers until it is Walt Weiskopf’s excitable tenor solo that brings you around.

Fedchock’s arranging skills are on full display on the breezy “Havana.” Sanabria’s percussive beat transports one to the sunny shores of this forbidden city accentuated by an alluring  Fedchock trombone solo. The band seems to sway to the rhythm with a seductive ease as Mark Vinci’s flute swoops over the backdrop like the Bird of Paradise.

Because every big band owes  a debt to Ellington  Fedchock  does his interpretation of  ” Just Squeeze Me.”    The arranger intersperses some modern, somewhat displaced choruses over the melodic baritone of Scott Robinson. Ultimately Robinson s gets a chance to break from the melody and he lends his own sense of history to his solo with impeccable tone and a modern sense of harmony. Robinson introduces a series of ascending bellows  at the coda that are just stirring.

Barry Ries’s mellow flugelhorn is featured on the softly stated “For Heaven’s Sake” and the John Fedchock’s “Ten Thirty  30” ends the set as a hard driving, up-tempo song inspired by the music of Clifford Brown- the title being a abbreviation of Brown’s birthday 10-30-30. Appropriately Brownie’s legend is carried on through a fine solo by trumpeter Scott Wendholt.  Fedchock gets his last licks in on trombone with a JJ Johnson like solo that pulses and bellows behind this well orchestrated band. Rich Perry is the last soloist and he offers a ruminating tenor sound that wanders in search of direction before he finds a path and follows it to conclusion above the pulsing orchestra.

John Fedchock, leader/arranger/trombone; Mark Vinci, alto sax, flute; Charles Pillow, alto sax, soprano sax; Rich Perry, tenor sax, Walt Weiskopf, tenor sax; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Scott Robinson, baritone sax; Tony Kadleck, trumpet, flugelhorn; Craig Johnson, trumpet, flugelhorn; Scott Wendholt, trumpet, flugelhorn; John Bailey, trumpet, flugelhorn; Barry Ries, trumpet, flugelhorn; Keith O'Quinn, trombone; Clark Gayton, trombone; George Flynn, bass trombone; Allen Farham, piano; Dick Sarpola, bass; Dave Ratajczak, drums; Bobby Sanabria, percussion; Kim Scharnberg , production assistant.

Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project Lines of Color  ASBN 0133

Ryan Truesdell’s  Lines of Color:

This year Ryan Truesdell was once again back at it trawling through previously unearthed works of composer arranger Gil Evans. He garnered great praise and success with the previously released Centennial and this time he added some of new gems to some work previously recorded by  Evans for a “live” recording of the band’s 2014 residency at the Jazz Standard in NY.  The resultant CD  Lines of Color is a treasure, documenting what it is like when a great big band, with great charts come together  and performs in front of a live and receptive audience. 

Highlights of this album include the time tested  Evans Composition “Time for the Barracudas”, with its repetitive rhythmic figure leading to a probing trombone solo by Marshall Gilkes, an exploratory tenor solo by firebrand Donny McCaslin and some impressive trap works by drummer Lewis Nash.

“Davenport Blues,” is another favorite with Matt Jodrell’s sensational trumpet solo work, evoking an authentic New Orleans sound. The collective solos of Ryan Keberle’s trombone, Steve Wilson's’soprano sax, Marcus Rojas on tuba chorusing behind  Jodrell’s trumpet shows Evans technique of using a superb a backing chorus to lift a soloist performance.

Listen to the seductive swing era sound of “Avalon Town” which mixes era consistent melodic sounds with more a modern juxtaposition of discordant ones. Brief but inventive solos abound on this one by Jodrell, Steve Wilson, Scott Robinson, Dave Pietro, Ryan Keberle and James Chirillo.

On “Concorde” Evan’s again employs multiple layers of sounds to create the basic swing before introducing the voice of Lois Martin’s viola  in a decidedly Americana flavor.

The band is screaming with solo talent driven to great heights by a superb rhythm section of Jay Anderson on bass, Frank Kimbrough on piano and Lewis Nash on drums. It works so precisely, like a fine Swiss movement under Truesdell’s apt direction, that it is hard to single out any one performance except to say the band is the true star here. Evans music swings, soars, excites and entertains with an attention to detail and a reverence that cannot be faked.

The nostalgic feeling of Wendy Giles vocals on “Can’t We Talk it Over,”  “Easy Living Medley” and “Sunday Drivin’” only adds to the transporting effect this music has on the listener.

Perhaps the most surprisingly evocative of songs on the CD is the well worn American Standard Greensleeves,”  This song that was originally arranged by Evans for guitarist Kenny Burrell and was  often featured in the master’s own outings. On this version Truesdell employs the sensitive trombone work of Marshall Gilkes, who provides just the right amount of modernity to this treasured and moving ode.

The hoping “Gypsy Jump”, a newly unearthed gem,  comes from an arrangement Evans did when he was with the Claude Thornhill Band back from 1942. The band plays this with great originality while still preserving the period feel of the music.

Gil’s “Easy Living Medley” is perhaps Evans’ most recognizable work.  Despite its languorous pace the arrangements are intricate, subtle and lush. The band plays with sensitive aplomb recreating the dreamy melody .Solos by pianist Frank Kimbrough, vocalist Wendy Giles and tenor man Scott Robinson all add to the magical mood.

The Cole Porter standard “Just One of Those Things” takes flight with a high flying, introductory soprano sax solo by the inimitable Steve Wilson. Trombonist Ryan Keberle, with his bellowing lower register trombone, adds to the freewheeling feel of the song as arranged. The band cooks with tight, brisk arrangements and after a nice piano solo by Kimbrough, Wilson takes it back up a notch with a reprise of his previous soprano solo to the coda.

Truesdell ends the set with “How High the Moon” which he states in the liner notes was one of the last charts Evan’s wrote for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra. Solo work by altoist Dave Pietro, pianist Kimbrough, trombonist Keberle and saxophonist McCaslin are featured on this medium tempo piece of history.  The band ends on a chorus of exclamation as the crowd applauds appreciatively. 


Ryan Truesdell, conductor; Woodwinds: Jesse Han, Jessica Aura Taskov, Steve Kenyon, Steve Wilson, Dave Pietro, Donny McCaslin, Scott Robinson, Brian Landrus, Tom Christensen, Alden Banta. French Horns: Adam Unsworth, David Peel. Trumpets: Augie Haas, Greg Gisbert, Mat Jodrell. Trombones: Ryan Keberle, Marshall Gilkes. Bass Trombone: George Flynn. Tuba: Marcus Roja, Rhythm  Section: Guitar: James Cirillo. Piano: Frank Kimbrough. Bass: Jay Anderson. Drums:
Lewis Nash. Voice: Wendy Gilles. Viola: Lois Martin. 

Patrick Williams Home Suite Home BFM 302 062 432 2

Patrick  Williams : Home Suite Home

Over the years , arranger/composer Patrick Williams has been a major force in the creation of some the most dramatic and exciting orchestral compositions for film, TV and recorded music. He has over two hundred films to his credit. His work has garnered him a Pulitzer Prize for his cross genre classical/jazz work titled  An American Concerto . Among countless nominations, Williams has also garnered two Grammys and four Emmys for his prodigious work.

On his latest effort Home Suite Home , Mr. Williams has attracted an extraordinary group of West Coast musicians, many  who have worked their anonymous magic on his scores and  in the studios for years. On this most personal of projects, Mr. Williams wrote this music with members of his family in mind. Musical portraits of his wife of fifty four years Catherine and his three children Elizabeth, Greer, and Patrick B. are the wellspring of his inspiration.  In addition Williams wrote tributes to two of his favorite artists, the arranger Neil Hefti and the great drummer Buddy Rich.
Needless to say the album is a masterful compilation of modern composing and arranging in the big band format.  Williams demonstrates just how facile he can be armed with such a large and talented group of musicians.

“52nd Street & Broadway” features a lush arrangement dedicated to the epicenter of the big band era and the famous Roseland Ballroom that resided there. Vocalist Patti Austin is featured fronting this pulsing band that swings in the big band tradition.  Ms. Austin has a powerful instrument that can hold up well to the big sounds that back her on this love affair to an era past. Chuck Berghofer’s big bass is prominent and Peter Erskine’s drums drive this well oiled machine.

“Home Suite Home I” dedicated to his daughter Elizabeth “The Beautiful Scientist,” has a distinctive ostinato beat that enters with a declaration that mixes minuet like formality with modern brass overtones.  The various band sections create tumultuous flows. A walking bass line that leads to a detective novel like stroll before  yielding to some funky tenor work by horn legend Tom Scott. With the pulsing chorus behind him West Coast studio stalwart Bob Sheppard lets loose with his own exclamatory tenor solo that soars to new heights

 “Home Suite Home II” is titled  “The Dreamer “ dedicated to his son Greer. This seductive ballad is smooth and delicate. A beautiful alto solo by Dan Higgins brings this waking dream to life as the band escalates its intensity, almost trying to break the mood with a wall of layered sound. Pianist Dave Grusin gently plays a repeating motif as Higgins alto sings the sanguine melody with the band drifting into and out of consciousness with the dynamics of Williams’ arrangements.

“Home Suite Home III” , dedicated to his son Patrick B. “The Real Deal”  starts with a march-like cadence from drummer Peter Erskine. Williams overlays different registers of brass and reed sounds so skillfully creating a jaunty stroll over Erskine’s syncopated drum cadence. Then the band hits its stride, fully synchronized with beautifully realized horn accents. Williams continually alternates sections from carrying the melody to countering it, shifting times, masterfully employing tension and release. Mr. Scott offers another raspy tenor solo that cooks and the band wails in equal intensity.  Trumpeter Michael Stever offers a nice open horn solo.

“A Hefti Dose of Basie “is Williams homage to both the big band sound of Count Basie and to his longtime arranger Neil Hefti. This smooth as silk stockings music features the Basie-like single note piano stroke of Dave Grusin, a muted trumpet solo by Stever and that big  walking bass line by Berghofer.

Williams resurrects his connection with Frank Sinatra with whom he did two duet albums by arranging  “I Get Around” as a duo for Ole Blue Eyes son Frank Sinatra Jr. who sings this with Tierney Sutton.

“Blue Mist,” written for his wife Catherine, is a sweepingly beautiful theme that features the beguiling trumpet of Arturo Sandoval. The composition plays cinematically evoking distant horizons and hidden vistas before it settles into a slow sauntering ballad. The sensuous sound of Sandoval’s open bell trumpet with its clean, clarion timbre offers an inspired cry. Williams changes the tempo to a medium swing as Sandoval  his horn  for a short bit as the band really starts to swing. Sandoval returns to open horn with his distinctive tone and brassy ,high register command at the coda.

Peter Erskine’s traps start “That’s Rich” dedicated to the great drummer Buddy Rich. The band spells out the lines leaving breaks for Erskine to solo between in true Rich fashion.  Additional highlights are solos by Higgins on alto, Andy Martin on trombone, Grusin on piano and a swinging sax solo by Tom Scott.  The band powers along through Williams unified wall of sound arrangement as Erskine accentuates at the breaks ending in a dramatic  drum solo that Buddy Rich would be proud to call his own. 

Personnel: All music Composed and Arranged by Patrick Williams

Piano: Dave Grusin; Bass: chuck Berghofer; Drums: Peter Erskine; Guitar: Dean Parks; Alto Saxes: Dan Higgins, Jeff Driskill. Tenor Saxes: Bob Sheppard, Tom Scott; Baritone Sax: Gene Cipriano.
Trumpets: Wayne Bergeron, Dan Fornero, Bob Summers, Michael Stever. Trombones; Charlie Loper, Andy MArtin, Bob McChesney. Bass Trombone; Craig Gosnell, Percussion: Dan Grecco
Vocalist Patti Austin, Tierney Sutton and Frank Sinatra Jr.

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