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Clare Fischer Big Band: Pacific Jazz

Jack Bowers By

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The late Dr. Clare Fischer enjoyed a long and storied career as a composer, arranger, pianist, bandleader and educator, primarily on the West Coast. Luckily, one of those he educated was his son Brent who was at his father's side as a musician and adviser for more than three decades and has safeguarded the Fischer legacy since Clare's passing in January 2012. Pacific Jazz, the second album by the Clare Fischer Big Band under Brent Fischer's supervision, consists of music written and / or arranged by the elder Fischer during his remarkable career alongside a trio of new compositions and arrangements by son Brent, all performed with ardor and awareness by a world-class ensemble (make that several ensembles).

As some of the music was recorded while Clare Fischer was still alive, he plays keyboards "except where noted," which, according to the personnel list, would place him on tracks 3, 7 and 11, the only ones on which no other keyboard player is named. Those numbers include two by Duke Ellington ("Cotton Tail," "Mood Indigo") and George Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy," all arranged by the senior Fischer and on all of which he solos. Quinn Johnson mans the keyboard on tracks 1, 4-6, 8, 12 and 13, Alan Steinberger on 2, 9 and 10. Other personnel is collective as well, with a bare majority of sidemen present at all of the various recording sessions (dates for which are not given). That makes no difference, as there's always a seasoned pro in every chair.

While Clare Fischer was perhaps best known for his Latin-centered compositions and arrangements (he wrote the jazz standard "Pensativa," among others, and earned a Grammy Award for the album Clare Fischer & Salsa Picante Present "2 + 2"), there isn't much of that here. Most numbers are either straight-on swingers or lustrous ballads, with two notable detours for the blues—Clare's even-tempered "Blues Parisien" and Brent's "Sad About Nothing Blues," the last charmingly sung and scatted by trombonist Scott Whitfield and trumpeter Carl Saunders to a clever lyric by Darlene Koldenhoven. Besides "Sad About Nothing Blues," Brent Fischer wrote the sophisticated "New Thing" and funky "Son of a Dad" and arranged "All Out," "Jumping Jacks" and Lennon / McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby" (the last two with his dad). Brent and Keith Horn orchestrated Clare's off-kilter arrangement of Ray Noble's "Cherokee."

The earliest composition here, "Passion," was written more than seventy years ago when Clare Fischer was sixteen years old. If nothing else, it shows he had an abundance of talent even then. The album closes with another of the elder Fischer's classic themes, the high-flying "Ornithardy," showcasing tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard. Speaking of soloists, superb spokesmen are everywhere to be found, starting with trombonist Andy Martin and alto Alex Budman on "Cherokee." Flugel Steve Huffsteter is zoned in on "Jumping Jacks" and "Blues Parisien," as are flugel Ron Stout and keyboardist Johnson on "New Thing," alto Kirsten Edkins and clarinetist Lee Callet ("Sad About Nothing Blues"), contrabass trombonist Steve Hughes ("Eleanor Rigby"), Johnson and Whitfield ("All Out"), alto Don Shelton, trombonist Francisco Torres, drummer Teddy Campbell and contrabass saxophonist Rob Verdi ("Son of a Dad"). Good as they are, Clare Fischer fashions three of the album's more engaging solos, on "Cotton Tail," "Mood Indigo" and "I Loves You Porgy." The word that springs to mind when epitomizing the ensemble as a whole is flawless.

In Brent Fischer's capable hands, it seems the music of Clare Fischer will live on for years to come, in a big-band paradigm or some other framework. And that's a good thing for musicians and listeners alike. Pacific Jazz exudes a charm that ensnares both heart and mind.

Track Listing: Cherokee; Jumping Jacks; Cotton Tail; New Thing; Passion; Sad About Nothing Blues; Mood Indigo; Eleanor Rigby; Blues Parisien; Son of a Dad; I Loves You Porgy; All Out; Ornithardy.

Personnel: (Collective) —Dr. Clare Fischer: composer, arranger, keyboards; Brent Fischer: composer, arranger, conductor, all mallet instruments, all “guitar” sounding parts, auxiliary keyboards, six-string electric bass; Carl Saunders: trumpet, vocal (6); Ron Stout: trumpet; Rob Schaer: trumpet; James Blackwell: trumpet; Brian Mantz: trumpet; Michael Stever: trumpet, piccolo trumpet (4, 8); Larry McGuire: trumpet (10); Josh Aguiar: trumpet (2, 9); Pete DeSiena: trumpet (2, 9, 10); Steve Huffsteter: trumpet (2, 9, 10); Bob Sheppard: tenor sax (13), clarinet (1); Don Shelton: alto sax, flute (10); Gary Foster: alto sax, flute (10); Gene Cipriano: tenor sax, flute (10); Alex Budman: soprano, alto sax, flute, Bb, alto clarinet; Kirsten Edkins: soprano, alto sax, flute, clarinet; Brian Clancy: tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Sean Frantz: tenor sax, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe; Glenn Morrissette: tenor sax, clarinet (10); Steve Marsh: alto sax, flute (2, 9); Phil Feather: tenor sax, clarinet (2, 9); Bob Crosby: tenor sax, clarinet (2, 9); Lee Callet: baritone sax, flute, clarinet; Bob Carr: bass sax, flute, piccolo, Eb contrabass clarinet; Rob Verdi: sopranino, soprano, contrabass sax; Andy Martin: trombone (1, 13); Scott Whitfield: trombone, vocal (6); Jacques Voyemant: trombone; Francisco Torres: trombone; Robert Soto: trombone; Dave Ryan: trombone (1, 13); Charlie Morillas: trombone (2, 9, 10); Les Benedict: trombone (2, 9, 10); Morris Repass: bass trombone (2, 9); Steve Hughes: bass trombone, contrabass trombone; Quinn Johnson: keyboards (1, 4-6, 8, 12, 13); Alan Steinberger: keyboards ( 2, 9, 10); Ken Wild: bass (electric bass, 1); Zac Matthews: bass (9); Ron Manaog: drums (1, 3-8, 11-13); David Derge: drums (2, 9); Teddy Campbell: drums (10).

Title: Pacific Jazz | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Clavo Records

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