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Ali Ryerson Jazz Flute Big Band: Game Changer

Jack Bowers By

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Yes, the idea seems rather implausible: a big band comprised of sixteen flutes and rhythm. Flutist Ali Ryerson is the catalyst and guiding hand behind the Jazz Flute Big Band (JFBB), which was formed in 2005 and has been performing at various events across the country ever since. Before dismissing it out of hand, give the JFBB's debut album, Game Changer, a listen; you may be in for a pleasant surprise. It's remarkable what well-written charts can do for an ensemble, even one that consists primarily of a single instrument (or five, if you subdivide the C, alto, bass and contrabass flutes and piccolo).

Needless to say, arranging for a nineteen-piece band sixteen of whose members are playing flute posed an enormous challenge for the half-dozen craftsmen chosen to carry out the enterprise, and each of them has come through with flying colors. Mike Wofford wrote three charts, Bill Cunliffe and Mike Abene two apiece. Mark Levine scored Clifford Brown's bop classic "Daahoud," Steve Rudolph the Herbie Hancock ballad "Speak Like a Child," Billy Kerr the classical composer Gabriel Faure's brooding "Pavane." Completing the program are Wayne Shorter's "Ana Maria," Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments," Tom Harrell's "Sail Away" (Wofford), Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma," John Coltrane's "Impressions" (Cunliffe), Neal Hefti's "Girl Talk" and "Li'l Darlin'" (Abene).

The FJBB's rhythm section (Levine, piano; Rufus Reid, bass; Akira Tana, drums) is exemplary, as are its trio of guest soloists: Hubert Laws ("Stolen Moments"), Nestor Torres ("Con Alma") and Holly Hofmann ("Girl Talk"). Ryerson (alto flute) trades with Hofmann on "Girl Talk" and solos on "Sail Away." Others who solo are Paul Lieberman on "Daahoud," Marc Adler on "Ana Maria," Jamie Baum on "Speak Like a Child," Kerr and Fernando Brandao on "Pavane," Bob Chadwick on "Li'l Darlin.'" And if you think flutists can't swing as hard as anyone, try "Impressions" (fiery solo courtesy of Andrea Brachfield).

Notwithstanding the absence of brass and reeds, Game Changer sounds much like any other well-written and superbly performed big-band album. The flutes are clearly more subdued but no less pleasing, the charts as admirable as could be envisioned for an ensemble of this kind. In other words, they are far from bland, nor is the tasteful Jazz Flute Big Band, which is off to an impressive start.

Track Listing: Daahoud; Ana Maria; Stolen Moments; Speak Like a Child; Con Alma; Girl Talk; Pavane; Impressions; Sail Away; Li’l Darlin’.

Personnel: Ali Ryerson: leader, C and alto flute; Marc Adler: C and alto flute; Jamie Baum: C and alto flute; Andrea Brachfeld: C and alto flute; Fernando Brandao: C, alto and bass flute; Bob Chadwick: bass flute; Richard Ford: C and alto flute; Kris Keith: C and alto flute; Zachary Kellogg: piccolo, C flute; Billy Kerr: C and alto flute; Paul Lieberman: C, alto and bass flute; Rachel Rodgers: C flute; Jonathan Royce: C and alto flute; Donna Sevcovic: bass flute; Stan Slotter: C and alto flute; Keith Underwood: bass and contrabass flute; Mark Levine: piano; Rufus Reid: bass; Akira Tana: drums, percussion. Guest Soloists — Holly Hofmann: C flute; Hubert Laws: alto flute; Nestor Torres: C flute.

Title: Game Changer | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Capri Records

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