With a host of wide-ranging work not only as a musician but also as a producer and arranger for television and film projects, Frank Macchia has never been one to rest on his laurels. Even if you're not familiar with his recordings, chances are you've heard at least one of his many film orchestrations: from The Cable Guy to Mission Impossible III to Muppets Most Wanted, Macchia's resume covers virtually every movie genre imaginable. And his own recording projects have been similarly multifarious. From Mo' Animals (self-released, 2006), a sprawling jazz-based homage to the animal kingdom, to Landscapes (Cacophony, 2008), a jazz symphony featuring the Prague Orchestra, to Folk Songs for Jazzers (Cacophony, 2010), a re-envisioning of the American folk canon through a jazz prism, Macchia's creativity seems virtually without limits.
On Rhythm Kaleidoscope, Macchia's gone in yet another surprising direction, with percussionist Brock Avery joining him in creating jazz-inflected pieces that use Avery's drum improvisations as a foundation for Macchia's "stream of consciousness" compositions. Given the complexity and depth of this music, one can only conclude that Macchia's consciousness roams well beyond that of most mortals, as there's nothing tossed-off or haphazard in these thirteen compact, well-constructed pieces. Macchia's vision combines his jazz sensibility with a rigorous classical one, producing music that often has orchestral sweepbut he also brings a zany, anything-goes spirit that leaves one constantly guessing what he's going to do next. There's also a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, as one of his influences, Frank Zappa, would undoubtedly approve of pieces titled "Piglets Bouncing on a Trampoline" or "Drunken Bar Brawl."
True to its name, Rhythm Kaleidoscope is indeed a percussion-driven album. Avery's varied percussive flourishes are always front- and-center in the mix. But aside from "Psychedelic Drum Machine," which employs a fairly steady funk beat (albeit with some off-meter moments), Avery generally stays away from conventional rhythms; nor does he lock into a particular rhythmic motif for very long, as he's got a peripatetic approach to his kit throughout the album. This means that Macchia has to engage in a constant calibration process, taking Avery's shape-shifting patterns as they come, and somehow devising deviously intricate orchestrations to match them. That this strategy works as well as it does is evidence of Macchia's impressive musicianship and pan-stylistic orientation.
Aside from Avery and the fleeting guest appearances of Stefanie Fife (cello), Alex Iles (trombone), and Eric Jensen (electric guitar), Macchia does a majority of the heavy lifting on the album. And as he plays a bewildering array of instruments on the record, there was undoubtedly a great deal of overdubbing and re-mixing involved. Yet pieces like "Slinky" nonetheless possess a striking fluidity, as Avery's skittering drums leave openings for Macchia to fill with imaginative instrumentation, bringing his tenor saxophone into conversation with Fife's cello to produce something that sounds almost chamber-like in its precision. And although the music's classical aspects can at times be a bit forbidding, Macchia is always eager to draw jazz voicings into the mix to leaven the music and keep it light on its feet. The arrangement on "Drunken Bar Brawl" feels almost Ellingtonian in the richness of its harmonies, so that even without a fixed rhythm the piece remains anchored in the jazz tradition despite the approaching chaos that colors the track.
Macchia has once again defied expectations with Rhythm Kaleidoscope. Listeners eager to explore some intriguing intersections of jazz and classical music will be especially impressed by Macchia's and Avery's work on this impossible-to-categorize release.
Rhythm Kaleidoscope; Psychedelic Drum Machine; Introspective Delusions Suite;
Slinky; Inside the Mind of M. De Sade; Drunken Bar Brawl; Outer Spaces 1:
Oumuamua, The Messenger; Outer Spaces 2: Dark Energy; Outer Spaces 3:
LightSpeed; Shimmering Vibrations; Piglets Bouncing on a Trampoline; Abduction;
It’s Fake News (No, It’s Not!).
Frank Macchia: compositions and orchestrations, piccolo, flute, alto flute, bass
flute, contrabass flute, clarinet, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet,
soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, bass saxophone,
ethnic winds, synthesizers, mixer; Brock Avery: drum set, New and Old Drums,
Pandeiros, frame drums, tambourines, pods, Shinclang, Slitdrums, Buffetonium,
Pipanafone, cymbals, stackers, bulb horn, sticks, brushes, mallets; Stefanie Fife:
cello; Alex Iles: trombone, bass trombone; Eric Jensen: electric guitar.