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CLAZZ Ensemble & Frank Carlberg: Federico on Broadway

Dave Wayne By

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Pianist/composer Frank Carlberg teams up with the Netherlands-based Clazz Ensemble for some truly off-kilter and wryly humorous musical mayhem on Federico on Broadway. Like Willem Breuker and Carla Bley, Carlberg's music has roots in the avant- garde but has gravitated slowly towards the tonal. Like Bley and Breuker, Carlberg has a humorous streak, and he's fond of incorporating odd bits of non-jazz influences into his long-form compositions. To that end, Federico on Broadway finds Carlberg proudly wearing his musical obsessions on his sleeve. A cursory listen evokes images of tightrope walkers, freakshows, and carnival barkers. As the recording's title suggests, the motion picture soundtracks of Nino Rota—particularly his work with Federico Fellini—also loom large among Carlberg's many fascinating influences. Another possible influence would be Carl Stalling's music for the Road Runner and Bugs Bunny cartoons—this is especially evident on "Rat Race" and during the closing sequence of "March."

Despite all the oom-pah horns and herky-jerky 2/4 circus rhythms, the complexity of Carlberg's music makes for daunting listening. The Clazz Ensemble pulls it all off with taste, aplomb, and virtuosity. Co-led by veteran tenor saxophonist Dick de Graaf and trumpeter Gerard Kleijn, the 12-tet really makes these pieces come alive. Most interesting is its ability to improvise passionately in Carlberg's decidedly odd musical settings. The title track opens quietly with a rhythm that seems like a broken waltz. A brilliant tenor solo unspools before the band vaults into a Breuker-ish circus-like mixed metric thing. At this point, a trumpet and tenor sax duke it out over increasing hubbub from the rest of the band. It's cacophonous for sure, but Carlberg's arrangement moves different voices into and out of the foreground—just like a group of actors on a stage delivering their lines. "March" is another lengthy, complex piece built around the concept of musical dialogues, culminating in a goofy brass exchange based on a bugle call. A square 2/4 march feel predominates, but drummer Joost Kesselaar keeps it loose and swinging. The group really breaks out the swing on "Johnny Carlson's Band," an up-tempo barn-burner that gives the band a chance to stretch out.

The remainder of Federico on Broadway is no less surprising, from the breakneck tempo hijinx of "Rat Race" and the almost Frank Zappa-esque quality of "The Chase," to the urbanely funky "Tricks," featuring a particularly lovely passage, where Carlberg's own distinctive piano solos blithely over a seething bed of low brass and clarinets. Federico on Broadway is one of those CDs that refuses to sink into the background. It may well be annoying in the car, while driving; that's because it must be heard—and heard repeatedly—on its own terms.

Track Listing: Federico on Broadway; March; Green Room; Rat Race; The Chase; Tricks; Johnny Carlson's Big Band.

Personnel: Dick de Graaf: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; Arno Bornkamp: tenor and soprano saxophones; Paul van der Feen: alto saxophone, clarinet; Nils von Haften: baritone sxophone, bass clarinet; Gerard Kleijn: trumpet; Frank Anepool: trumpet; Charlie Biggs: teumpet; Vincent Veneman: trombone; Koen Kaptijn: trombone; Kris Goossens: piano (1-4); Guus Bakker: bass; Joost Kesselaar: drums; Frank Carlberg: conductor (1-4), piano (5-7).

Title: Federico on Broadway | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Red Piano Records

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