Frank Macchia seems to have a thing about American folk songsa very good thing. On his Grammy-nominated Landscapes, the Los Angeles-based multi-reedist/composer/arranger teamed up with The Prague Orchestra and bookended his superb "Landscape Suite" with traditional tunes like "Shenandoah," "Down in the Valley," and "Deep River," with marvelous results.
On Folk Songs for Jazzers, Macchia and his thirteen-piece band jazzes up some seemingly unlikely traditional tunes like "Blue Tail Fly," "I've Been Working on the Railroad," Skip to My Lou," and even that old campfire sing-along "Kumbaya."
All that may sound like a surefire recipe for some serious un-hipness, but Macchia and company are inspired re-inventors, giving "Oh Susanna" a very cool Gil Evans feeling on the harmonies to go with a series of trombone and reed solos that, with improvisational élan, take the tune somewhere else altogether; the essence jazz.
"Skip to My Lou"probably not recognizable on casual listenis jazzed up hot with a Latin tinge featuring a bird song piccolo solo that weaves around the swirling reeds, followed by a saucy trumpet turn in front of some beefy horn accompaniment. "Kumbaya" opens with Macchia's hearty tenor solo and a loose-limbed, rumbling, brass-heavy accompaniment. It seems like an unusual choice for a jazz treatment, but Macchia and the band give it grit, and a foreboding feeling of oncoming calamity. This heard around the camp fire would conjure images of dangerous things lurking out there in the dark.
Vocalist Tierney Sutton sits in on "Red River Valley" with her clear, clean intonation and a feeling of haunted melancholy, as she scats in front of waxing/waning reeds, giving way to a bluesy guitar solo. "Amazing Grace" features Ellis Hall's soulfully uplifting vocal in front of an ethereal reed harmony and Bob Sheppard's heart-felt tenor sax solo injected with Hall's scat comping.
Once again, Frank Macchia has modernized a set of traditional tunes, jazzing them up with sass and beauty into a new millennium.
Track Listing: I've Been Working on the Railroad; Red River Valley; Skip to My Lou; Oh, Susanna; Did You Ever See Lassie?; Polly Wolly Doodle; Tom Dooley; The Arkansas Traveler; Amazing Grace; The Erie Canal; Hush, Little Baby; The Bluetail Fly; Kumbaya; On Top of Old Smoky.
Personnel: Sal Lozano: alto sax; flute; bass flute; clarinet; bass clarinet; Bob Shepard: soprano sax, tenor sax, piccolo, flute, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet; Frank Macchia: tenor sax, piccolo, alto flute, bass flute, contrabass flute, clarinet, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Jay Mason: baritone sax, bass sax, flute, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, English horn; Wayne Bergeron: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alex Iles: trombone, baritone horn, tuba; Kevin Porter: trombone, bass trombone, baritone horn, tuba; Tom Ranier: acoustic and electric piano; Grant Geissman: electric guitar, banjo;Trey Henry: bass; Ray Frisby: percussion; Tierney Sutton: vocal (2); Ellis Hall: vocal (9).
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