When composer Clare Fischer passed away on January 26, 2012, he left behind a diverse legacy. Spending the late 1950s as pianist and arranger for The Hi-Lo's before working alongside Dizzy Gillespie and Donald Byrd, Fischer finally attained greater recognition in the 1960s for his contributions to the then burgeoning Latin jazz and bossa nova craze, including writing the standard "Pensativa."
Conceived and performed exactly as he intended, Extension is his masterpiece. Recorded in 1963, the album is a majestic culmination of his concepts, drawing upon myriad influences, including rich Ellingtonian voicings, the angular harmonic intervals of bebop, and bold modernist innovations proffered by classical composers such as Bela Bartok and Dmitri Shostakovich.
Released for the first time on CD by International Phonograph, Inc., this deluxe mini-LP styled reissue was mastered from the original 3 track analog tapes, capturing every nuance of the orchestra's scintillating tones, textures, and shadings. Counter to the norms of the time, these meticulously scored big-band charts are light on extended improvisationbut intentionally soas Fischer considered the relationship between composition and arrangement equally important. Maintaining thematic control as primary soloist, Fischer proves to be a concise, yet original interpreter, demonstrated by his adroit pianism on the impressionistic tone poem "Quiet Dawn." His kaleidoscopic Hammond organ work, revealed elsewhere on the record, is equally colorful.
Alternating with the leader for the spotlight is tenor saxophonist Jerry Coker. An under-sung West Coast phenomenon, Coker's role as an educator has overshadowed his discography; his contributions herein should redress this oversight, as his distinctively straightforward tenor ruminations resound with a sublime lyricism, particularly on the expansive title cut.
Together Fischer and Coker accentuate the date's prismatic colors and variegated moods, which are by turns charmingly old fashioned, like the breezy "Ornithardy," or subversively modern, such as the jaunty "Igor," dedicated to Stravinsky. Although traditional swing dominates, the acute timbral contrasts between instrumental sections belie the orchestra's seemingly conventional make-up; subterranean woodwinds, lush brass and diaphanous flutes engage in rigorous counterpoint across eight multihued selections. The cumulative effect of these dynamic voicings varies dramatically; the 5/4 chant "Canto Africano" suggests classy vintage exotica, yet the same instrumentation conveys regal austerity on the opulent ballad "Bittersweet."
As part of the same continuum that includes Gil Evans, Stan Kenton and Gary McFarland, Fischer reveals a distinctive and unique compositional style. Accessible and sophisticated, Extension is a welcome reissue that will entertain and engage curious listeners on multiple levels.