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Bill Cunliffe: BACHanalia

Jerome Wilson By

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This is another entry in the durable "jazz meets the classics" subgenre with pianist and bandleader Bill Cunliffe leading a large ensemble through a fun program featuring mostly classical works and familiar standards.

The classical adaptations start off with Johann Sebastian Bach's "Sleepers Awake" played with crisp, muscular drive by the band. Cunliffe and trombonist Bob McChesney provide tight, intricate solos and Denise Donatelli follows the melody on top with a bubbly wordless vocal that recalls Swingle Singers. "Goldberg Contraption" is Cunliffe's take on Bach's "Goldberg Variations" which appropriately puts the theme through ever-changing tempos and featured band sections. It's a dreamlike piano solo, one minute, a slow sweeping ballad by the full orchestra the next, and a brassy horn shout after that.

Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto is hooked up to a rolling Latin beat. Cunliffe's treatment features excellent cascading writing for the horns while his piano ranges from classical drama to dazzling jazz runs. C.P.E. Bach's "Solfeggieto" gives Donatelli a chance to further show her scatting prowess, this time in front of just a lively rhythm section of Cunliffe, Alex Frank, and Joe La Barbera. Manuel de Falla's "The Three-Cornered Hat" rounds out the classical selections with dramatic Spanish atmosphere and moody flamenco rhythms.

There are also a few non-classical pieces in the set. "Afluencia" is a Cunliffe original featuring another restless Spanish rhythm and frothy soprano sax by Bob Sheppard. Denise Donatelli gets to show what a warm, sensuous voice she has on a moderately swinging arrangement of "I've Got You Under My Skin" with horn voicings out of Oliver Nelson. The finest music of the entire set comes on a moody, apprehensive version of "Blame It On My Youth" featuring Terell Stafford playing trumpet with elegant melancholy.

Bill Cunliffe's writing has the emotional sweep of a classic Hollywood movie soundtrack. He moves instruments around with imagination and creates drama and subtle, insinuating swing in this music. BACHanalia shows that he deserves to be considered one of the finest big band arrangers on the scene today.

Track Listing: 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 My Skin.

Personnel: 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).

Title: BACHanalia | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Metro

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