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The New England Jazz Ensemble: Peter and the Wolf

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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Sergei Prokofiev's classic work, Peter and the Wolf, has been recorded by just about every ensemble on the planet, save Johnny Puleo and the Harmonicats. Furthermore, it has been guest narrated by some of the greatest (Richard Attenborough, Ben Kingsley, Sir John Gielgud) and also oddest voices (Bill Clinton with Sophia Loren and Mikhail Gorbachov, Antonio Banderas also with Loren, and Sharon Stone). However, there's never been as hip, pulled-together version than that recently recorded by the New England Jazz Ensemble with "scriptation" and narration by His Highness of Hip, Giacomo Gates. (Ms. Loren regrets that she was not available for the session).

The album presents Prokofiev's fairy tale re-worked musically with the Lord Buckley-like script authored by Gates. In addition to the half-hour-long saga, the album also features four additional selections (including two originals—"Waltzing with Wolves" and "Wolves"—primarily drawn from themes and motifs from the original. All are brilliantly adapted, arranged/orchestrated and performed.

The New England Jazz Ensemble—an extremely talented unit as good as any anywhere—covers the entire work superbly. The ensemble swings tightly and the solos—those extended or not—are in synch with the overall groove and stylized approach of the piece. You can tell that the NEJE bought into and were enjoying the overall presentation. The arrangements and orchestrations by Walter Gwardyak, Jeff Holmes, and John Mastroianni are killer. These arrangers here have done their homework exceptionally well. The musical representations of the various animal characters, Peter and Grandpa are dead-on. Listeners will probably hear the influence—if not reverential "saluting"—of Duke Ellington's orchestrating (plungered trombones, wild woodwinds, muted and screaming trumpets, etc.).

The slickly revised script and its straight-up narration by jazzer, Giacomo Gates is Jon Hendricks-like and brings new linguistic perspectives to the children's fable. Gates is wise not to over dramatize or "go camping" with his own words. His "2 and 4" Boppish verbal approach fits nicely with the group's terrific playing that surrounds him.

It's not widely known that Prokofiev's pre-WW II work had propaganda themes and political metaphors in it. With this terrific and invigorating performance, the New England Jazz Ensemble and Mr. Gates soar and might even have "Mad Monk" Rasputin digging their tootin.' A romp of the First Order.

Track Listing: Introduction; Peter and the Wolf; Serge's Birds; Power Serge; Waltzin' with wolves; Wolves.

Personnel: Giacomo Gates: Narrator and "Jazzbretto" author (1,2); John Mastroianni: soprano sax and "Chirp" soloist, alto sax, flute, clarinet; Bob DePalma: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Michael Levanthal: tenor sax, clarinet, tenor sax soloist; Larry Dvorin: tenor sax, clarinet; Lisa LaDone: baritone sax, bass clarinet, "Cat" soloist; Jeff Holmes: trumpet and "Quacker" soloist, piccolo trumpet, flugelhorn; Steven Fitzko: trumpet, Harmon soloist, flugelhorn; Donald Clough: trumpet, flugelhorn; Hak Zorn: trumpet, flugelhorn (1,2); Tim Atherton: trombone and "Wolf"; Peter McEachern: trombone and "Wolf"; Ben Griffin: trombone and "Wolf" (1,2); David Sporny: trombone (3,4,5,6); David Wampler: trombone and "Wolf"; Walter Gwardyak: piano, accordion; Steve Bulmer: upright bass, electric bass and "Grandfather" soloist; Jon Mele: drums and "The Hunters" soloist.

Title: Peter and the Wolf | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Self-Produced

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