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Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band: Intenso!

Jack Bowers By

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If nothing else, an exclamation point is meant to grab one's attention. What matters most, of course, is what precedes (or follows) said mark. On Intenso!, the latest album by the Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band, the music provides its own exclamation point, charging boldly forward as if to say, "Drop whatever you're doing and listen to me!" It's a stratagem that could conceivably work as well as it did for the band's earlier recording, Ritmo!, which earned a Grammy Award in 2012 as Best Latin Jazz Album.

As many aficionados are no doubt aware, the Latin Jazz Band has rested in the capable hands of Clare Fischer's son, Brent, since January 2012 when his father passed away. Since then, one of Brent Fischer + The Clare Fischer Ensembles's aims has been to preserve Clare's remarkable musical legacy, which he has done in part by unearthing, re-examining and recording his father's works, many of which bear a Latin signature. Even though Clare Fischer was born and raised in Michigan and spent many years in Southern California, his fondness for the music of Latin America and the Caribbean remains true and undeniable. At least two of his Latin-centered compositions, Morning and Pensativa, have become jazz standards, while others aren't far behind.

Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, Clare Fischer not only composed six of the ten selections on Intenso! and arranged or co-arranged (with Brent) the same number, he also plays piano / keyboards on seven. And as one of the groups the elder Fischer was closely associated with as pianist / arranger was the Hi-Lo's, it is altogether fitting that one of the founders of that vocal quartet, Don Shelton, should be showcased on the high-energy opening mambo, Dizzy Gillespie's "Algo Bueno" (a.k.a. "Woody 'n You")—not as a singer but on soprano sax and flute. Since ending his career with the Hi-Lo's, Shelton has morphed into one of the West Coast's premier big-band reed section leaders, albeit one who is too-seldom heard as an improviser, an art at which he also excels. Tracks two ("Gaviota") and five ("The Butterfly Samba") do feature a vocalist, the sublime Roberta Gambarini (if you're going to invite a singer, you may as well go after the best). Gambarini is her usual splendid self, singing and scatting (with Scott Whitfield on the irrepressible "Butterfly"), even though her cool-headed vocal on "Gaviota" is impaired to some extent by overcooked brass and percussion. Tenor Rob Hardt is up next, soloing persuasively on an Afro-Cuban rendition of Duke Ellington's "Rockin' in Rhythm" that is beyond question unlike any you've heard before.

Two more guests, drummer Tris Imboden and Sheila E on timbales, steal the thunder on Clare Fischer's dynamic "Solar Patrol," which includes a searing alto solo by Alex Budman. The temperature dips to chilly on "Renaciamento," which skirts a number of genres from Stravinsky to the blues, before warming apace on "O Canto," on which Carl Saunders' typically mind-blowing trumpet solo leads to an uncommon passage wherein Clare Fischer sings along, George Benson style, while playing piano. The captivating samba "La Mucura," perceptively arranged by Clare Fischer, is another tune played so often by Latin groups that it qualifies as a standard. "Mucura" precedes the lyrical "Tres Palabras" (on which Clare Fischer's keyboard parts were transcribed and orchestrated by Brent Fischer and Matt Wong) and the elder Fischer's buoyant "Play Time," the last song he ever recorded and a proper embarkation from an album he could not hear but that surely would have pleased him no end. After weighing the evidence, there's no doubt that Intenso! has earned its exclamation point. As for earning another Grammy Award for the Latin Jazz Big Band, only time—and the voters—can tell.

Track Listing: Algo Bueno; Gaviota; Rockin’ In Rhythm; Solar Patrol; The Butterfly Samba; Renacimiento; O Canto; La Mucura; Tres Palabras; Play Time.

Personnel: Clare Fischer: keyboards; Brent Fischer: percussion, electric bass, “guitar” sounding parts; Alex Budman: soprano & alto sax, flute, piccolo, clarinet; Kirsten Edkins: soprano & alto sax, flute, clarinet; Don Shelton: soprano sax, flute; Brian Clancy: tenor sax, flute, alto flute, clarinet, recorder; Sean Franz: tenor sax, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, recorder; Rob Hardt: tenor sax, flute, alto flute, clarinet; Lee Callet: baritone sax, flute, alto flute, clarinet, recorder; Bob Carr: bass sax, flute, piccolo, Eb contrabass clarinet; Carl Saunder, Ron Stout, Rob Schaer, James Blackwell, Brian Mantz, Michael Stever, Anthony Bonsera: trumpet; Scott Whitfield, Francisco Torres, Philip Menchaca, Jacques Voyement: trombone; Steve Hughes: bass trombone; Quinn Johnson: keyboards (tracks 4,5,6); Ron Manaog: drums (tracks 5 & 6); Ken Wild: electric bass (tracks 5 & 6); Luis Conte, Kevin Ricard: percussion; plus Sheila E: timbales (on track 4); Robert Gambarini: vocals (tracks 2 & 5); Scott Whitfield: vocals (track 5); Walfredo Reyes: drums (track 10); Tris Imboden: drums (track 4).

Title: Intenso! | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Clavo Records


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