American composer Charles Ives (1874-1954) was an arts iconoclast in the vein of his contemporary poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955). Both men were successful business executives who profoundly changed American art as an avocation. Ive's music brimmed with an Americana that sounds slightly sepia-toned today, but that has not prevented it's subjugation as subject for jazz interpretation, another piece of Americana. Theo Bleckmann and Kneebody's Twelve Songs by Charles Ives (Winter & Winter, 2008) set the patrician insurance executive's sound on its ear.
Now, noted composer and arranger Jack Cooper completes his near two decades old quest in arranging Ives for jazz big band. At first blush, this might sound like a stretch, but Ives was a craggy and enigmatic composer whose music reflected those very musical attributes. Ives delighted in crashing sounds, times and melodies together in creative cataclysm. Cooper takes the more available Ives themes for consideration. The Ives project grew out of Cooper's PhD dissertation while studying at UT Austin in 1997. Now a faculty member at the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music at the University of Memphis, Cooper has put the finishing touches on his Ives project, adapting eight of Ives' songs for jazz orchestra performance. These arrangements are scored for an orchestra of 17 with soloists, including trumpeter Terell Stafford, trombonist Luis Bonilla and tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta.
This collection is book ended by two of Ives' briefest songs, "Mists" and "The Cage." The title piece is a study in textures: tactile elements rising from the high and low brass and reeds. Featured are Stafford, Renta, Bonilla and drummer Vince Cherico. Each probes this tangible terrain differently, turning up harmonic and melodic nuggets, seasoning Cooper's rich arrangements. Likewise, "The Cage" demonstrates Cooper's grasp of Ives' tonal complexities. Again, a sonic braille prevails in the arrangement, giving the music its four dimensional feel.
The lush and angular Ives' re-imagination of the spiritual "At the River" are transformed by Cooper into something cleanly contemporary but still harboring a whiff of the attic. The low tones of Bonilla's trombone and Chris Karlic's baritone saxophone raise the depth of the piece solidly fixing the familiar melody, through improvisation, squarely in the arena of other great music Americana. Cooper allowed this music to simmer a good while before recording it and that measured patience shows in this exceptional assimilation of an American Master.
Mists; The Last Reader; The Children’s Hour; Tom Sails Away; The
Camp-Meeting; Watchman!; At the River; The Cage.
Billy Drewes: alto saxophone; Andrew Halchak: alto saxophone; Ivan
Renta: Tenor Saxophone; Peter Branin: tenor saxophone; Chris Karlic: baritone
saxophone; Terell Stafford: trumpet; Nick Marhionne: trumpet; John Walsh:
trumpet; Jim Seeley: trumpet; Scott Wendholt: trumpet;
John Mosca: trombone; Luis Bonilla: trombone; Ray David Alejandre:
trombone; Frank Cohen: bass trombone (1, 2, 4-8); Douglas Purviance:
bass trombone (3, 8); Randy Ingram: piano, Hammond B3 organ; Alex
Wintz: guitar; Andy McKee: bass: Vince Cherico: drums, percussion.