As the title denotes, pianist Bill Cunliffe and his ensemble take a swing (literally) at the great Johann Sebastian on BACHanalia, pivoting as well toward the music of C.P.E. Bach, Sergei Prokofiev, Manuel de Falla, Cole Porter, Oscar Levant and Cunliffe himself. In spite of its classical veneer, this is at its core a jazz session, and as such embodies the essential elements one would expect from such an enterprise. To phrase it another way, Cunliffe transports these masters of the classical genre into the twenty-first century, giving their timeless music a new vantage point from which to entice the contemporary listener.
J.S. Bach is refurbished on the melodious "Sleepers Awake" and Cunliffe's well-designed "Goldberg Contraption," C.P.E. Bach on the light-hearted "Solfeggietto." Denise Donatelli's wordless vocal is used to good effect here, as it is on "Sleepers Awake" (she croons the lyrics on Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin," underlining a brisk solo by tenor saxophonist Rob Lockart). The first movement of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 is an agile and panoramic rendition that runs for more than seventeen minutes and encloses forceful statements by Cunliffe (who reminds everyone what a marvelous player he is), Lockart, trombonist Andy Martin, guitarist Larry Koonse and drummer Joe La Barbera whose sharp and perceptive timekeeping is decisive on every number.
Guest trumpeter Terell Stafford shines on Levant's "Blame It on My Youth," as does soprano Bob Sheppard on Cunliffe's "Afluencia," a fast waltz written years ago for his Latin band, Imaginacion. Trombonist Bob McChesney solos earnestly alongside Cunliffe on "Sleepers Awake," and with Cunliffe and Koonse on "Goldberg Contraption." The snappy "Three-Cornered Hat" enfolds brief but emotive solos by La Barbera, trumpeter Jon Papenbrook, trombonist Ido Meshulam and tenor Jeff Ellwood. High marks to Cunliffe and his teammates not only for braving music that is normally outside their comfort zone but doing so with proficiency and panache, all the while making sure it swings in the best big-band tradition.
Sleepers Wake; Afluencia; Piano Concerto No. 3, 1st Movement; Solfeggietto; Blame
It on My Youth; Goldberg Contraption; The Three-Cornered Hat; I’ve Got You Under
Bill Cunliffe: leader, composer, arranger, piano, background vocal (7); Wayne
Bergeron: trumpet (2, 3); John Daversa: trumpet (5); Dan Fornero: trumpet (5);
Jamie Hovorka: trumpet (1, 6, 8); Kyle Martinez: trumpet (7); Kye Palmer: trumpet
(1-3, 5-8); Jon Papenbrook: trumpet (1, 6-8); Terell Stafford: trumpet (2, 3, 5);
Bob Summers: trumpet (1-3, 5-8); Jeff Driskill: alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute (5);
Nathan King: alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute (7); Brian Scanlon: alto, soprano sax,
clarinet, flute (1-3, 5, 6, 8); Bob Sheppard: (1-3, 6-8); Jeff Ellwood: tenor sax,
clarinet, flute (1-3, 5-8); Rob Lockart: tenor sax, clarinet, flute (1-3, 5-8); Tom
Peterson: baritone sax, bass clarinet (7); Adam Schroeder: baritone sax, bass
clarinet (1-3, 5, 6-8); John Chiodini: guitar (7); Larry Koonse: guitar (1-3, 5, 6-8);
Alex Frank: bass (4, 7); Jonathan Richards: bass (1-3, 5, 6, 8); Joe La Barbera:
drums; Denise Donatelli: vocals (1, 4, 7, 8).