Friday, November 29, 2019

"Hand Painted Dream": Music from guitarist/arranger Peter Hand and his Big Band

Hand Painted Dream: The Peter Hand Big Band Savant SCD 2175

The guitarist Peter Hand has once again assembled an impressive group of East coast session musicians for his recently released new big band album HandPainted Dream, and the music is tastefully orchestrated, skillfully selected and marvelously played.

Peter Hand, an eloquent jazz guitarist with a mellow tone, was immersed in the blues early in his musical career. He cut his teeth playing guitar with bassist Jerome Arnold, a onetime sideman with blues legends like Howlin’ Wolf and Paul Butterfield. While attending Binghamton University for pre-med studies, Hand began taking note of the brass sections that added a distinctive power to the music of great performers like James Brown. 

Horn-driven music fascinated the guitarist and he wanted to understand the secrets of writing for bigger bands. He attended courses at City College and the Manhattan School of Music, concentrating on skills like counterpoint, music notation, harmony, and orchestration. Hand got the jazz bug and eventually pursued courses in jazz, particularly big band music, and attended Berklee in Boston where he absorbed big band composing and arranging. After a two-year stint playing music and living in the Caribbean, Hand returned to New York and concentrated his work as a sideman and arranger for veteran jazz artists that included George Coleman, Carmen Lundy, Lee Konitz, Ralph Lalama and Victor Jones.

In 2002 Hand helped co-found the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, a vibrant big band made up of some of east coast jazz's premier horn and reed players. The band has remained vibrant but Hand left there after just a year. In 2005, Hand formed his own big band and by 2009 released a well-received Savant cd featuring tenor man Houston Person -The Peter Hand Big Band Featuring Houston Person – The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute to Harold Arlen. In 2014 Hand and his sixteen-piece big band released another acclaimed cd Out of Hand.

Peter Hand ( photo credit unknown)
On this latest release, Hand Painted Dream, Hand and his big band play nine compositions, four of which he composed, all of which he arranged

The cd opens with a flurry of traps by drummer Steve Johns. There is a feeling here that evokes the explosive entrances made famous by big band drummers like Gene Krupa, Sonny Greer or Buddy Rich. In many ways, Hand's big band arrangements have one foot into the history of big band music and one foot moving the genre to more modern ground. You hear the pulsing bass of Harvie S in the background before Hand has his horns erupt in delightfully arranged unison. Potent solos by altoist Bruce Williams, trumpet master Valery Ponomarev, and pianist James Weidman all add to this Charlie Parker cooker “Yardbird Suite.” The guitarist matches notes with the well-meshed horn section before adding a melodic, smoothly executed solo of his own near the coda.

Hand's breezy “Island of the Heart” features a tenor solo by multi-reedist Don Braden and an expressive trumpet solo by John Bailey. Hand evokes a Caribbean sound that lulls you into kicking back, grabbing a tropical drink with one of those umbrellas floating above the rim and enjoying this sublime music. 

Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now” is a beautiful, slow tempo ballad, accented by Hand’s sensitive guitar work at the opening. The song features the fetching voice of Camille Thurman and the clear, high-register tone of trumpeter Eddie Allen. Hand’s arrangement is lush and soulful, and his accompaniment with Thurman's voice is precise and understated. Thurman has a powerful and impressive voice, as she easily modulates through the lyrics with agility and grace. Hand’s sensitive guitar solo is warmly melodic.

Randy Weston’s “Berkshire Blues” has a casual swing that features Don Braden’s gentle flute, a rousing trombone solo James Burton III and veteran Ralph Lalama's forceful tenor solo. Hand has proven his ability to arrange skillfully for his musicians. He chooses specific charts that can accentuate their talents and masterfully composes sectional charts that allow his band to artfully build on a theme.

Another Caribbean inspired tune composed by Hand is titled “Calypsiana.” It has a swaying feel that was inspired by Hand’s stay in St. Thomas. On this piece, vocalist Thurman plays a boisterous tenor solo and Hand stirs things up with his own brand of island breeze guitar, before Johns adds a roiling drum feature.

The titled composition “Hand Painted Dream,” is a gorgeous miniature gem. The arranger utilizes a romantic string arrangement- played by the Secret String Quartet (Cornelius Dufallo, violin; Lev Zhurbin, viola; Yves Dharamraj, Cello; violinist Jennifer Choi) conducted by Joshua Shneider- giving the piece a distinctive, modern, chamber crossover sound. The strings accentuate the complex lines, as Hand has deftly combined them with Weidman’s deft piano and his woodwind and brass sections. The song features a poignant tenor saxophone solo by Braden and Hand’s multi-layered arrangement even includes a noted, albeit brief, trombone solo (maybe John Mosca) toward the end. 

Hand's composition, the Brazilian inspired “Brazilian Emerald,” features a serpentine solo by Allen on trumpet, Jay Brandford provides a nice alto solo and an understated guitar solo by the composer. 

Hand's other composition, “Once Upon A Time,” has a more lilting sound that seems to be grounded in big bands sounds heard from an era past. The band's section playing is beautiful and lush. The group is skillfully arranged, magically melding sixteen pieces into a uniform voice. John Bailey’s flugelhorn and trumpet work is notable. Hand’s seasoned tone is steady, warm and inviting and these traits always seem to somehow be absorbed into the sound of his band. 

The finale is a minor blues medley of John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C. / Cousin Mary,” both songs from Coltrane’s seminal album Giant Steps. Like the opening Parker song “Yardbird Suite,” this well-liked classic is invigorating music that gets the band members juices flowing. The drive is established by Harvie S's throbbing bass line and the entire band plays the melody line in unison and in harmony. In a series of consecutive solos we here how each player inspires the following soloist. The band features a deep-throated, raspy and robust solo by baritone saxophonist Kenny Berger. Bruce Williams follows with an angular, boppish alto solo that wails. Valery Ponomarev claims his own territory with an authoritative and pointed trumpet solo before tenor master Ralph Lalama raises the stakes as he makes his own definitive statement on the theme. Peter Hand’s guitar is understated and warm and the stalwart drummer Steve Johns adds a little heat with a short but succinct rhythmic explosion near the closing. Good stuff.

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