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Frank Macchia: Landscapes

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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The prospect of a saxophone and strings record is likely to call to mind Charlie Parker's controversial Bird With Strings (Mercury, 1949), but that's not the obvious reference point once you've listened to this recording. Saxophonist Frank Macchia's Landscapes is a saxophone concerto for classical orchestra, framed by treatments of classic American songs in the same style—like, say, Beethoven's 1817 adaptations of Scottish songs.

Another key ingredient of this record is movie music. Macchia is a part of that noble succession of jazzmen who've made their way to Los Angeles to earn a living playing movie soundtracks, though not only as a session man; he's at least as versed in the skills of scoring and arranging too. Accordingly, the music here has more to do with Erich Korngold, arguably the first bona fide classical composer to write for film and to incorporate filmic elements into serious music for the concert hall as well as the silver screen.

The six movements of Macchia's "Landscapes Suite" are replete with attractive melodies and idiomatically visual elements, such as the swirling harp of "River," suggesting sonic eddies. Other references are culturally allusive: accents vaguely North African ("Desert") or sub-Saharan ("Jungle"). In the surging rhythm and open orchestration of the "Jungle" movement, Macchia's writing recalls Aaron Copland, who also wrote, and profoundly influenced, film music. The string glissandi that opens the suitably frigid "Arctic Chill," meanwhile, has the same eerie iciness of the ghostly string passages of the second movement of Bela Bartok's second piano concerto. This is a rich sound palette.

Another element of film music is present here; namely, that the soundtrack should complement—but not entirely distract the viewer from—the images on the screen. Where there are no images, the music consequently lacks a certain focus. This is not the case with the archetypal classic songs elsewhere on the disc (and these classics are profoundly classic: half of them are in the public domain).

As a soloist, Macchia sounds a little like Jan Garbarek, which may have as much to do with the rather airy reverb of the sound mix as with the leader's personal style. Elsewhere—as on the raucous closing minutes of "Down in the Valley"—he brandishes his impeccable R&B prowess, sounding more like Gene Ammons. That passage might sound even nicer with a hard-hitting rhythm section, but an R&B fantasia for strings and saxophone is eminently worth hearing—as is the record as a whole.

Track Listing: The Sidewalks of New York; Shenandoah; Down In The Valley; Landscapes Suite - for Saxophone & Orchestra: I.Golden Fields, II.Desert Heat, III.River Rapids, IV.Arctic Chill, V.Jungle Life, VI.Forest Twilight; Deep River; Avalon; Way Down Yonder In New Orleans.

Personnel: Frank Macchia: composer, tenor saxophone; The Prague Orchestra: Adam Klemens: conductor; orchestra personnel unlisted.

Title: Landscapes | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Cacophony

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