INSPIRE ME BIG BANDS, ORCHESTRAS & MORE

INSPIRE ME BIG BANDS, ORCHESTRAS & MORE
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
May 25, 2019

RALPH PETERSON & THE MESSENGER LEGACY – “LEGACY ALIVE – VOL. 6 AT THE SIDEDOOR” Onyx Productions

Ralph Peterson,drums/leader;Bill Pierce,tenor saxophone;Bobby Watson,alto saxophone; Brian Lynch,trumpet; Essiet Essiet,bass; Geoffrey Keezer,piano.

This is my straight-ahead dream band. If you love bebop, like I do, this production will totally entertain and inspire you. It’s a two-set CD highlighting the brilliance of Ralph Peterson’s drum talents. That being said, this is not to diminish his ensemble, who are obviously the cream of the crop. Disc One opens with a Curtis Fuller composition, “A La Mode” whose arrangement energizes and excites. The group pulsates through the first three songs before settling down to perform the lovely balled, “My One and Only Love”, featuring Bill Pierce on tenor saxophone and enhanced by the polished piano playing of Geoffrey Keezer. Although this is not a big band, the harmonics and arrangements are lush and have the power and precision of a larger ensemble. On Disc two, Essiet Essiet offers an outstanding solo on “That Ole Feeling.” All in all, there’s not one bad, nor one average or boring tune on this album.

Peterson is determined to keep the legacy of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers alive and well by endeavoring to duplicate Blakey’s hard-swinging arrangements and bebop sensibilities. in the music of his “Legacy Alive” production, Ralph Peterson accomplishes this feat. All of this production is a reminder of the incredible discography of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger’s group. I believe that this October would have been Blakey’s 100th birthday. If you are a Jazz Messenger fan, you will recognize each and every song that Peterson and his group interpret. You’ll enjoy Golson’s “Along Came Betty, Wayne Shorter’s, “Children of the Night” the nursery rhyme, “Three Blind Mice” that Curtis Fuller arranged back in 1962, and Freddie Hubbard’s, “The Core” that was a dedication to the congress of Racial Equality, a 1960’s popular civil rights and action group.

This is exquisitely performed and arranged music. It brought back many warm memories for me and was so well-done, I played both CDs four times, then took a break and came back for more.
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JENTSCH GROUP NO NET – “TOPICS IN AMERICAN HISTORY” Independent Label

Chris Jentsch, electric guitar/composer; Michel Gentile, flutes; Michael McGinnis, clarinets; Jason Rigby, saxophones; David Smith, trumpet/flugelhorn; Brian Drye, trombone; Jacob Sacks, piano; Jim Whitney, acoustic bass; Eric Halvorson, drums/percussion. JC Sanford, conductor.

Guitarist, Chris Jentsch, earned his B.A. in history at Gettysburg College. This album was released late last year. It was recorded during a ‘live’ concert and features guitarist/composer, Jentsch, interpreting seven historic events using his original compositions. For example, the first song is titled, “1491.” The music is meant to explain the influx of Europeans into the Caribbean islands. Did I hear that in the tune? Not really. However, the composition is exploratory and imaginative, like this entire project. The second song, “Manifest Destiny” is composed to exhibit the 1800s and the belief that expansion of the country across North America was unstoppable. The fourth tune is titled “Tempest Tost” a line from the scribe written on the Statue of Liberty and “Suburban Diaspora” was a title I hadn’t heard before. I thought the Diaspora usually referred to the dispersion of people from their homeland. Jentsch has taken this concept a step further. His piece is referring to suburban middle-class families relocating to cities. The final tune, “Meeting at Surratt’s” is a dirge-like composition and when I read the Jentsch explanation, it made perfect sense. Hanged in 1865, Mary Surratt was found guilty of conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln. She let those who plotted to kill him meet at her home, a few blocks from the Ford Theater. The federal government executed her for complicity.

His ensemble sounds much larger than it is, sparkling with lush arrangements and dramatic interludes, where various musicians step forward to solo. I chose to place this review with my big band reviews because of the richness of the arrangements and the full sound of these creative, orchestral compositions. Chris Jentsch has released five albums and earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Miami. This current project was commissioned by Chamber Music America/Doris Duke New Jazz Works and was recorded at ShapeShifter Lab in Jentsch’s hometown of Brooklyn. These Chris Jentsch suites are beautiful and mind expansive.
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STEVE HAINES AND THE THIRD FLOOR ORCHESTRA Justin Time Records

Steve Haines, double bass/producer/orchestration; Becca Stevens, vocals; Chad Eby,soprano saxophone; Joey Calderazzo,piano; Greg Hyslop,guitar; Kobie Watkins, drums; Kevin Geraldi,conductor, plus thirty-six various orchestra players.

This is chamber music with human voice. Steve Haines and his Third Floor Orchestra present an eleven-song concert of classically influenced jazz, incorporated with Celtic traditions, original compositions and pop music. It’s an odd combination, but it works. The second track is an original composition by vocalist Becca Stevens, William Stevens and W. Song titled, “No More.” You hardly hear the jazz until Chad Eby’s soprano saxophone enters. The arrangement places percussion licks beneath the horn solo to call attention to Eby’s jazzy sound. Becca Stevens has a voice as sweet as honey. It floats atop the orchestra the way cream rises to the top of milk. Becca introduces the melody and carries the entire piece with her soprano tone, clear and inviting, like a human flute. This is an unusual recording in my collection of music. It does not fit the singular mold of jazz. Even so, it’s quite beautiful; pleasant to the ear and soothing to the spirit. Bassist and group leader, Steve Haines has also composed a few of the songs. This is easy listening music, enhanced by Steve Haines’ orchestral arrangements.

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DARRELL KATZ AND THE JCA ORCHESTRA – “RATS LIVE ON NO EVIL STAR” JCA Recordings

Darrell Katz,guitar/composer/conductor/producer;
The JCA Orchestra consists of 29 talented musicians.

The opening orchestral composition is the title tune and was produced from something Darrell Katz wrote thirty-one years ago. Originally, it was composed for a violin and marimba duo. Consequently, there’s a lot of violin solo work with additional string parts. But you will also hear inspired saxophone solos. The title is off-putting, in that I have no great love for rats. Still, the music itself is compelling, original and imaginative. Katz proudly helped found and is the current Director of the Jazz Composers Alliance (JCA). This orchestra of talented musicians has become a vehicle to feature forward-thinking composers and a home for some of Boston’s best musicians and improvisers. They provide a platform of international community building through music. According to the Boston Phoenix newspaper, “Darrell Katz is one of Boston’s most ambitious and provocative jazz composers.” He incorporates poetry into his orchestra arrangements with words that provoke thought and echo political overtones.

“I am always trying to make the melody and words be unified,” Katz explains. “I am very much trying to put the poetry across, always looking for what seems like a good fit. I really want the listener to pay attention to the words, and I want the music to help them. But it’s hard to describe, a lot of it is intuitive. A lot of meaning and feeling is rather abstract, but it’s what I’m looking to match.”

One of the suites of music called, “How to Clean a Sewer” incorporates three parts. The first is titled, “Three or Four Kinds of Blues,” which does not sound like a blues at all. The second part of the Suite is titled, “Windfall Lemons” (air, earth, water, fire) with ear-catching trombone solos by Bob Pilkington and Dave Harris. There’s a tuba player who also catches my attention. His name is Bill Lowe. The over-all Suite of music is inventive and seems to encourage the various musicians to speak with their individual sounds and voicings. They merge and blend like a crowd of boisterous, talkative families; a taste of avant-garde. Katz uses a pause technique in his compositions and arranging to bring drama and attention to his pieces. The vibraphone occasionally takes stage center, as does the haunting soprano vocals of Rebecca Shrimpton. Now deceased poet, Paula Tatarunis, inspired the “How to Clean A Sewer” song and “To An Angel” features Shrimpton on vocals.

As a change of pace, “The Red Dog Blues” written by Darrell Katz asserts:

“I don’t stop on red. I smoke in bed. I talk back to the boss. I don’t even floss. If there’s a bad choice that’s what I’ll choose. I’m in the doghouse with the red dog blues.”

“…With a big mouth full of lies, and a soul filled with junk, he likes to brag about his tower. And his haircut is bad news. He’s in a solid gold toilet with the red dog blues,” takes a lyrical turn to 2019 political opinion.

Darrell Katz is a guitarist, composer, conductor and producer of this project. He is also a current professor at Berklee College of Music.
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RICHIE BEIRACH – GREGOR HUEBNER DUO with THE WDR BIG BAND – “CROSSING BORDERS” Zoho Music

Richie Beirach, piano; Gregor Huebner, violin; Rich Derosa, conductor/arranger; The WDR Big Band: Johan Horlen, alto saxophone/alto flute/lead; Karolina Strassmayer, alto saxophone/alto flute; Olivier Peters & Paul Heller , tenor sax/clarinet; Jens Neufang, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Andy Haderer & Wim Both, trumpet/flugelhorn (lead);, Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls, & John Marshall, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ludwig Nuss (lead), Andy Hunter & Shannon Barnett, trombone/euphonium; Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone/tuba; Joachim Schoenecker, guitar; John Goldsby, bass; Hans Dekker, drums.

Richie Beirach has composed the first two songs, presented as a medley and titled “Rectilinear/Paradox”. It opens with the full big band and then breaks down to a straight-ahead groove featuring Beirach’s piano solo playing brightly with John Goldsby’s bass walking briskly beneath Beirach’s electric piano improvisation. In fact, throughout, Goldsby’s bass is prominent and outstanding. On the second cut, a Violin Concerto No. 3 composed by featured violinist/composer, Gregor Huebner, the beauty of the arrangement and the performances by the musicians pull at the heartstrings. This composition’s first movement is melancholy, but when the horns blare, the bass walks and the violin solos, we move into a big band call to attention. The time doubles and Huebner chases the bass line, making his violin race tornado-like and tenacious.

This “Crossing Borders” project is a conversation between cultures, countries and political agendas using music as the catalyst. It’s a call for unity. An extended musical hand, reaching across differences and holding a big band olive branch. This music has a welcoming spirit and intentionally blends borders between a classical jazz orchestra and big band illumination. Huebner and Beirach have collaborated with each other for some twenty-three years. Their concerto achievements, arrangements and various compositions interlock talents with ease, like entwined fingers or palms pressed together in prayer.

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THE FELIPE SALLES INTERCONNECTIONS ENSEMBLE – “THE LULLABY PROJECT” Tapestry Records

Felipe Salles,soprano saxophone/composer/conductor/arranger/ producer; RHYTHM SECTION:Nando Michelin,piano/melodica;Kevin Grudecki,guitar; Ryan Fedak,vibraphone; Keala Kaumeheiwa,double bass;Bertram Lehmann,drums.

SAXOPHONES/WOODWINDS:Richard Garcia & Jonathan Ball, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Mike Caudill, tenor & soprano saxophone/clarinet; Jacob Shulman, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Tyler Burchfield, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS/FLUGELHONRS:Jeff Holmes & Yuta Yamaguchi, (lead); Eric Smith & Doug Olsen, soloists. TROMBONES:Joel Yennior, (lead); Clayton DeWalt, Dan Hendrix, & Randy Pingrey. Angel Subero, bass trombone.

This is a beautiful execution of five movements for jazz orchestra, composed and arranged by Felipe Salles. He has based this entire project on various Brazilian lullabies, extracting musical segments from these popular lullabies and composing original music of his own. He has also added three compositions that are Tango inspired and arranged for a large jazz ensemble. Every arrangement engages the listener and is motivating the orchestra players, who bring brilliance and shine to a sparkling project. A native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Dr. Felipe Salles brings an element of his culture, warmly wrapped with American jazz, and blanketed with European classical influence. Throughout these richly written and interpreted compositions, improvisation is woven into the multi-cultural fabric of the Salles compositions and Felipe gives time and spotlight to various orchestra members during provocative solos.

As an Associate Professor of Jazz and African-American Music Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Salles somehow has found time and attention to release seven critically acclaimed recordings as a leader. All his recordings have been highly praised, winning favor by top jazz magazines and peers alike. In 2018, Felipe Salles became a Guggenheim Foundation Composition Fellow. This is only one of many grant winning projects he has created. As an active musician in the United States since 1995, he has performed with and recorded with a long list of prominent jazz artists. Some of those include Randy Brecker, David Liebman, Lionel Loueke, Duduka Da Fonseca, Luciana Souza and Bob Moses. Dr. Salles is a D’Addario Woodwinds Select Reeds Artist and clinician, as well as an Andreas Eastman saxophone artist and clinician. Currently, he leads the Felipe Salles Group and the Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble. He is also a member of the new World Jazz Composers Octet. He has somehow found more open time on his burgeoning schedule, to also participates in the Kyle Saulnier’s Awakening Orchestra and Alex Alvear’s Mango Blue and Gonzalo Grau’s (Grammy Nominated) La Clave Secreta. Felipe Salles’ current Lullaby Project offers 73 minutes and 29 seconds of incredible musicality.
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WAYNE WALLACE LATIN JAZZ QUINTET – “THE RHYTHM OF INVENTION” Patois Records.net

Wayne Wallace,trombone/composer;Murray Low,piano; David Belove,bass;Colin Douglas,drums/percussion;Michael Spiro, congas/percussion.
GUEST MUSICIANS: Mary Fettig,flute/soprano & alto saxophone/bass clarinet; Masaru Koga, tenor saxophone; Melecio Magdaluyo,baritone saxophone; Erik Jekabson & John Worley , trumpet; Brennan Johns,bass trombone; Miro Sobrer,Sean Weber & Matthew Waterman, trombone; Dayren Santamaria, Eugene Chuklov, Niki Fukada, Maria Romero, & Daniel Stein, violins; Edith Szendrey & Rose Wollman, viola; Kelly Knox & Monice Scott, cello; Akida Thomas,spoken word; Dr. David Baker,pre-recorded interview on cut #5.

The Wayne Wallace Latin jazz Quintet has the full and appealing sound of a larger ensemble. If you are looking for a well-balanced, Latin production, danceable tunes and invigorating percussive energy, you will find all of that here. Opening with “Vamanos Pa’l Monte, (written by Eddie Palmieri) the group Salsa-dances its way into your heart. Paul Desmond’s popular “Take Five” composition, widely appreciated for its unique quintuple meter, 5/4-time signature, and unforgettable melody, is tackled as their second cut. Wayne Wallace’s quintet institutes a 5/8 clavé pattern-arrangement, steeping their production in Afro-Cuban richness. It’s well done, preserving the memorable melody and expanding the rhythm towards a 6/8 African-feel and featuring multi-talented Mary Fettig on saxophone. The quintet incorporates solid horn harmonies in the background and a Coro, or Afro-Cuban chant at the fade. It’s a unique arrangement for this top-selling jazz tune.

Akida Thomas adds spoken word to the fifth track and title tune, “The Rhythm of Invention,” also featuring the music of Wayne Wallace. His trombone soars and the lyrics by Akida add commercial and youthful expression. The percussive excellence of Colin Douglas and Michael Spiro support Akida’s spoken word. The strings and horns sail in the background, like waves licking the belly of a freedom ship. Unexpectedly, the voice of Dr. David Baker is super-imposed over this fluid music, with his comments recorded in 1970 at the radio station WFIU of Indiana University. This is exciting and exploratory big band arranging. Wayne Wallace has composed four of the ten songs recorded. His outstanding arrangements elevate this project. I was captivated by the bass work of David Belove on track seven, “El Arroyo,” another Wallace original tune. Belove makes that tune come alive, placing his happy and creative bass lines confidently beneath the music, and adding an exciting bottom for the chords to embellish.

Wayne Wallace, once based in the Bay Area of California, is well-known for his encyclopedic knowledge of Afro-Cuban rhythms. He was music director of the John Santos Machete Ensemble for twenty years. His creation of the Patois Record label, not only is the source of this production, but expands to encompass artists like vocalists Kat Parra and Alexa Weber Morales, as well as highly regarded anthologies of Bay-Area salsa and the Latin jazz scene. As an educator, he taught at San Jose State University and at Stanford University. Currently, he is professor of jazz trombone and practice in jazz studies at the Jacobs School of Music within Indiana University.

Here is a delightful and infectious production that is solidified by the Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet and embellished by a host of Guest Musicians, who enhance the arrangements with big band boldness and spoken word.
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