Given the unusual circumstances behind its inception, the album Colours of Sound probably never should have made it to a recording studio. The fact that it did is a happenstance for which every big-band lover and jazz enthusiast should be thankful. The odyssey began in 2011 when Australian composer / pianist Simon Pilbrow wrote a letter of appreciation to the celebrated American composer / pianist Clare Fischer. After Clare Fischer passed away in 2012, Pilbrow stayed in touch with and befriended his son, Brent, and widow, Donna. At some point, Pilbrow mentioned to Brent Fischer that he had written a number of jazz compositions, several of which were housed in the Gerry Mulligan collection at the U.S. Library of Congress.
To make a long story short, Brent Fischer looked over Pilbrow's manuscripts and was so impressed that he suggested they be recorded by first-class American musicians. It took a while to hammer out the details but by May 2017 Pilbrow, Fischer and their hand-picked troupe of all-star abettors were ready to roll. The result is Colours of Sound, on which a dozen of Pilbrow's sunlit compositions are brought emphatically to life thanks to Fischer's superlative arrangements. The already succulent menu is made even more tantalizing by Fischer's use of assorted groups from quintet to big band, with the addition of a string section on two numbers and clarinet choir on two more. Also adding to the over-all excellence and charm are the orchestra's renowned guest artists: clarinetist Ken Peplowski ("Try for Ages," "Fast Fingers"), trumpeter Bobby Shew ("Blue Six," "Surprise") and guitarist Larry Koonse ("New Beginning," "Autumn Breeze").
The large ensemble, eighteen strong, kicks the enterprise into gear with the rhythmic and cheerful "Australia," the first of its four numbers and the first of trumpeter Carl Saunders' brace of intrepid solos (the other is on "September") with more heat provided by tenor Brian Clancy, trombonist Scott Whitfield and Pilbrow himself, who quickly proves he's no hindrance at the keyboard. The waltz "A New Beginning," written for Pilbrow's wife, Jean, is scored for quintet, as is the suitably named "Joyful," with solos by Koonse and soprano Alex Budman on the first, Pilbrow and Budman again (alto flute) on the second. The large ensemble returns on the Latin-centered "Studio City," serpentine "Fast Fingers" and carefree "Surprise," with crisp solos courtesy of Pilbrow, alto Budman and Brent Fischer on marimba ("Studio City"), Peplowski, Pilbrow, alto Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Mike Stever, trombonist Bob McChesney and drummer Ray Brinker ("Fast Fingers"), Sheppard (tenor), Shew and trombonist Andy Martin ("Surprise").
The irrepressible "Remembering Woody Shaw," one of Pilbrow's musical touchstones, was arranged by Fischer for nonet, as was the boppish finale, "Blue Six," written as an homage to trumpeter Blue Mitchell and encasing an earnest solo by Shew alongside well-placed volleys from Sheppard, Whitfield, Pilbrow and Brinker. Solos on "Woody Shaw" are by Sheppard, Whitfield, Pilbrow and trumpeter Ron Stout. The strings amplify a core quintet on "Autumn Breeze" and "September," while "A Fischer's Line" and "Try for Ages" (a showcase for Peplowski and bass clarinetist Budman) were scored for five-member clarinet choir and rhythm. Budman (soprano sax), Whitfield and Pilbrow are the soloists on "A Fischer's Line," another Latin-inspired charmer, this one dedicated to the memory of Clare Fischer. The ensembles, as one would surmise, are letter-perfect, the soloists perceptive and resourceful, while Pilbrow's themes and Fischer's charts are never less than agreeable. If the recording itself were a touch sharper and more well-balanced, top marks all around. As it is, four and one-half stars must suffice.
Australia; A New Beginning; Studio City; Remembering Woody Shaw; Autumn Breeze; Fast Fingers; A Fischer’s Line; Surprise; Joyful; Try for Ages; September; Blue Six.
Simon Pilbrow: composer, piano; Brent Fischer: arranger, conductor, vibraphone, marimba, electric bass (tracks 3, 5, 7, 11); Rob Schaer: trumpet; Mike Stever: trumpet; Kye Palmer: trumpet; Jeff Bunnell: trumpet; Ron Stout: trumpet; Carl Saunders: trumpet; Bob Sheppard: soprano, alto, tenor sax, alto flute; Sal Lozano: alto sax; Alex Budman: soprano, alto, tenor sax, flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet; Kirsten Edkins: alto sax, alto flute; Brian Clancy: tenor sax, alto flute, clarinet; Sean Franz: clarinet; Gene Cipriano: bass clarinet; Bob Carr: baritone sax; Lee Callet: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Charlie Loper: trombone; Andy Martin: trombone; Bob McChesney: trombone; Scott Whitfield: trombone; Craig Gosnell: bass trombone; Steve Hughes: bass trombone; Chuck Berghofer: acoustic bass (tracks 1, 2, 4, 6, 8-10, 12); Ray Brinker: drums; Assa Drori: concertmaster, violin (tracks 5, 11); Alex Gorlovsky: violin (tracks 5, 11); Raphael Rishik: violin (tracks 5, 11); Susan Rishik: violin (tracks 5, 11); Elizabeth Wilson: viola (tracks 5, 11); Lynn Grants: viola (tracks 5, 11); Maurice Grants: cello (tracks 5, 11); Kevan Torfeh: cello (tracks 5, 11); Oscar Hidalgo: contrabass (tracks 5, 11). Special guests – Larry Koonse: guitar (tracks 2, 5); Ken Peplowski: clarinet (tracks 6, 10); Bobby Shew: trumpet (tracks 8, 12).
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