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Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival "Big Band Spectacular" 2017, Part 2-4

Simon Pilbrow By

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Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival Big Band Spectacular
LAX Westin Hotel
Los Angeles, CA
May 24-28, 2017

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Jimmy Giuffre's classic, "Four Brothers," has been a much-loved anthem of the Woody Herman band since his Second Herd, and a great jazz landmark. Traditionally a saxophone tour-de-force, this performance was a recasting for big band of Brent's earlier clarinet choir arrangement (recorded on A Family Affair) with all of its brilliant melody, great section work, and ensemble excitement. This time the audience was treated to eight-bar solos from every member of the band, section-by-section, beginning with each of the trumpets, followed by the saxophones and the rhythm section. Always a wonderful piece to hear, this was a fine display of the great depth of solo talent of this band.

The Fischer classic "Morning" featured trumpeter Jamie Hovorka and the vocals of Laura Dickinson, over a flute ensemble with muted trumpets. Quinn Johnson played a playful, nimble piano solo, followed by a muscular but lyrical trombone solo from Francisco Torres. A vigorous ensemble chorus and neat key change into the bridge was followed by some fine four-mallet countermelody work from the leader. Dickinson was then featured on a double-time samba reworking of "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," somewhat inspired by a blend of Earth, Wind and Fire and Baden Powell, with complex bass rhythms and nice solo work from Brian Clancy.

"O Canto," a fast and happy samba, built around a repeating melodic motif, with continual shifting harmonies, was a feature for Carl Saunders' brilliant trumpet work, and exuberant brass section work, and six-mallet vibes wizardry from Brent Fischer. "In the Beginning," Grammy nominated in 2011, was next, with its mercurial bebop lines played by vibraphone and winds, insistent piano rhythms, and launching into twelve-bar blues form with double solo choruses from Sean Franz, tenor saxophone, and Scott Whitfield on plunger trombone, followed by angularly atonal bebop lines carried by the sax section and vibes over a pedal tone bass.

The delightful "Butterfly Samba," from the recent Intenso release, featured the vocal duet of Laura Dickinson and Scott Whitfield, skillfully negotiating the fast melodic lines and words (penned by Darlene Koldenhoven). It featured a stream of rapid-fire solos from half of the cast—flutes (Clancy, Budman), trombones (Whitfield, Jacques Voyemant), trumpets (Stout, Saunders), scat vocal (Whitfield) and drums (Ron Manoag), before the energetic reprise of the vocal duet melody. Clare Fischer's tune "Cal's On," a nod to vibraphonist/composer/bandleader/Latin jazz pioneer Cal Tjader, featured Brent Fischer on six-mallet vibraphone above harmonized brass, a fast and vigorous Tristano-like bebop melody line, a vigorous, boppy alto saxophone solo from Kirsten Edkins, and a muscular bone solo from Scott Whitfield. The band finished with "Sad About Nothing Blues," a feature for Saunders and Whitfield, singing the tongue-in-cheek vocal line, trading on trumpet and trombone, some whimsical scat vocal trades and more cheerful bebop alto work from Edkins.

All in all, this was a fine concert performance of great and complex Fischer material by a very dedicated band. The sound production was generally excellent, permitting all the nuances of this great music to be heard to advantage from the audience.

Bill Cunliffe and BACHanalia

Bill Cunliffe has had a distinguished career as a jazz pianist, composer, arranger, leader of small and large ensembles, and as an outstanding educator. He has strong roots in western classical music also, and these inform many of his explorations at the interfaces between jazz and classical music. He has an ear and instinct for finding the common ground between them, wherein he can combine classical thematic material and forms with the structure, instrumentation and improvisatory opportunities within the jazz big band. The challenge is to do this with the musical intelligence and integrity that fuses and brings out the best of both music forms. The performance by the BACHanalia band demonstrated this with style, great taste and swing as they played a mixture of classical-inspired works and other fare.

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