As we live through the most contentious and divisive political cycle in US history, the Ted Nash Big Band Presidential Suite: Eight Variations On Freedom couldn't be more relevant. The significance hits home quickly and pointedly as former Connecticut State Senator Joe Lieberman follows the opening "Overture" with words of JFK that say, in part: ..."civility is not a weakness...."
Nash is well known for his role in Wynton Marsalis' Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, an association that dates back more than fifteen years. Under his namesake Big Band, Nash had released the critically acclaimed Chakra (Plastic Sax Records, 2013) and some half-dozen leader dates. Highly regarded as both a saxophonist and composer, Nash is a GRAMMY® Award-nominated composer and arranger as well as a multi-reedist. More importantly, he has long displayed a creative intellect that goes beyond the music to explore broader issues.
As a composer, Nash doesn't simply revel in traditionalism. While he adheres to a fundamental foundation, the improvisations can reflect a wide-open sense of creative freedom and the combination is what makes him a unique writer and arranger. At work, counter to the big band sound of the ensemble, are inventive solos such as Nash's own on the Jawaharlal Nehru inspired "Spoken at Midnight" and trumpeter Kenny Rampton and bassist Carlos Henriquez on "The Four Freedoms" based on FDR's speech. Baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley is featured on "This Deliverance," a Winston Churchill-inspired piece of Temperley's suggestion. The saxophonist unfortunately passed away not long after the recording of Presidential Suite: Eight Variations On Freedom.
Those familiar with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra will quickly recognize that Nash's Big Band is essentially manned by the same personnel. Though Marsalis appears only on "The American Promise," it is a memorable contribution. He shares the solo spotlight with the great drummer Ali Jackson from JLCO and the Marsalis quintet. Tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding, pianist Dan Nimmer and Henriquez are members of the three groups as well and each contribute outstanding solo performances throughout the suite. By the time the album closes with the Nelson Mandela inspired "The Time for the Healing of the Wounds" with its infectious world rhythm (and trombonist Chris Crenshaw's spoken vocal) the listener has not only been moved by the thought-provoking ideas behind these speeches but by Nash's stunning inventiveness in translation.
The high concept behind Presidential Suite: Eight Variations On Freedom is not new for the ambitious Nash. The JLCO's Portrait in Seven Shades (Jazz at Lincoln Center, 2010) was a seven-movement suite paying homage to modern masters of painting Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Van Gogh, Dali, Chagall and Pollock. With Presidential Suite: Eight Variations On Freedom adds another level of complexity in pairing the excerpts of these famous speeches with the appropriate readers before taking each piece to its musical interpretation.
The two disc set features a second disc that consists of the music segments without the narration but the combined elements are not to be missed. The CD features a thirty-seven page booklet that includes background on the historical context of each of the speeches recognized here, perspectives on the readers of those speech extracts and personal insights from best-selling authors Douglas Brinkley and Kabir Sehgal who serve as Producer (there are six in total) and Executive Producer respectively. In their notes, the two point out precisely what makes this album such an important work as they cite it as a cue to keep ..."the essential vision of freedom in the forefront of our dialogues, our actions, and our culture."
Disc 1:Overture; Joe Lieberman reads John F. Kennedy; Ask Not [Kennedy]; Deepak Chopra reads Jawaharlal Nehru; Spoken at Midnight [Nehru]; William vanden Heuvel reads Franklin D. Roosevelt; The Four Freedoms [Roosevelt]; Douglas Brinkley reads Ronald Reagan; Tear Down This Wall [Reagan]; David Miliband reads Winston Churchill; This Deliverance [Winston Churchill]; Glenn Close reads Aung San Suu Kyi; Water in Cupped Hands [Suu Kyi]; Sam Waterston reads Lyndon B. Johnson; The American Promise [Johnson]; Evander Holyfield reads Nelson Mandela; The Time for the Healing of the Wounds [Mandela]. Disc 2: Overture; Ask Not [Kennedy]; Spoken at Midnight [Nehru]; The Four Freedoms [Roosevelt]; Tear Down This Wall [Reagan]; This Deliverance [Winston Churchill]; Water in Cupped Hands [Suu Kyi]; The American Promise [Johnson]; The Time for the Healing of the Wounds [Mandela].
Ted Nash: conductor, arranger, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Dan Nimmer: piano; Carlos Henriquez: acoustic bass, electric bass; Ali Jackson: drums, percussion; Sherman Irby: alto saxophone, flute, alto flute; Charles Pillow: alto saxophone, flute, alto flute; clarinet, soprano saxophone; Victor Goines: tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto flute; Walter Blanding: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Paul Nedzela: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Ryan Kisor: trumpet (lead); Kenny Rampton: trumpet; Marcus Printup: trumpet; Greg Gisbert: trumpet; Vincent Gardner: trombone (lead); Chris Crenshaw: trombone, vocal (Disc 1:17, Disc 2:9); Elliot Mason: trombone; Zach Adelman: percussion (Disc 1: 13, Disc 2: 7); Ansel Scholl: cowbell (Disc 1: 17, Disc 2: 9); Wynton Marsalis: trumpet (Disc 1: 15, Disc 2: 8); Joe Temperly: baritone saxophone (Disc 1: 11, Disc 2: 6); Deepak Chopra: reader (Disc 1: 4); Glenn Close: reader (Disc 1: 12); Joe Lieberman: reader (Disc 1: 2); David Miliband: reader (Disc 1: 10); William vanden Heuvel: reader (Disc 1: 6); Sam Waterston: reader (Disc 1: 14); Andrew Young: reader (Disc 1: 16).