The young composer and bassist Todd Sickafoose waited a full five years to put out his second release, Blood Orange, following his debut, Dogs Outside (2000). Considering the advances he has made as a composer and arranger, the wait is worth it. Sickafoose still writes pensive mainstream jazz enriched by free improvisation, but his tighter new group makes possible writing which demands no less from individual players and gets much more from the whole.
To be fair, Dogs Outside was a ten-hour studio effort with a strong but uneven lineup. Peter Epstein for one sounded too polished and brilliant to blend in fully with that album's sparse arrangements, which would have benefited from the additional keyboards and electronic effects Sickafoose now incorporates. Simultaneous soloing, a success on both recordings, had clear, even cautious, boundaries on Dogs and never achieved the boldly unified sound that sustains Blood Orange. Blood still features trombonist Alan Ferber and guitarist Justin Morell, but with Ches Smith on drums and Ben Wendel on tenor, the sound is more aggressive and evenly matched, two gains that serve the composer well.
Perhaps Sickafoose needed this particular ensemble to fully realize the richly interactive overlapping parts of Blood Orange. The title track is a fine example: in the middle of Ferber's mounting solo, a celeste enters to double the trombone for several bars before dropping out for a backing saxophone line, which is in turn doubled by Ferber after a few more bars of soloing. Thoughtful use of structure like this lends direction to every song and a satisfying pace and consistency to the entire recording.
It is no accident that the composer maintains a focused aesthetic from beginning to end. The track listing alone shows the four-part "Serpentine" spaced throughout the album by intervening songs. The closing "Resolve" is alone in standing outside of this established musical territory, but it seems to point deliberately towards heavier use of electronics in the group's future. Even those few listeners who were not impressed by Dogs Outside are likely to be wowed by the rapid development of this gifted young composer. Hopefully his next release will not take another five years.
Track Listing: Serpentine One; Entering the Wild; Repeater; Moonfruit; Serpentine Two; Blood Orange; Microscopic Horses; Serpentine Three; Monkey Wrench of the Future; Serpentine Four; Resolve.
Personnel: Ben Wendel: tenor saxophone; Alan Ferber: trombone; Justin Morell: guitar, effects; Ches Smith: drums; Todd Sickafoose: bass, piano, keys, bells. Guests: Nels Cline: guitar, effects; Adam Benjamin: Rhodes, effects; Steve Moore: Wurlitzer, effects, celeste; Mark Ferber: drums (10).
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.