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Frank Macchia: Saxolollapalooza

Jack Bowers By

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As John Cleese used to say on the Monty Python television series, "And now for something completely different." Of course, one can usually expect something completely different from free-thinking Frank Macchia, and this CD is no exception to the rule. Once upon a time, Macchia writes, he bought a bass saxophone and came up with the idea of recording half a dozen saxophones, from soprano to bass, accompanied only by drums. He wrote a number of charts and even recorded demos on which he overdubbed the saxophone parts. But Macchia eventually shelved the plan, as what he "always dreamed of was to get a great section of saxophonists to play [the] material."

Macchia's dream has come true with Saxolollapalooza, an equably delightful session starring Macchia, ace drummer Peter Erskine and a group of woodwind all-stars from the Los Angeles area—Eric Marienthal, Sal Lozano, Bob Sheppard, Gene Cipriano and Jay Mason. Having chosen his partners carefully, Macchia does the same with his material, which canvasses well-known songs from Benny Goodman's "Air Mail Special," Juan Tizol's "Caravan," the Dixie evergreen "That's A-Plenty" and Nat Adderley's "Work Song" to the time-honored themes "Down by the Riverside," "Shortening Bread" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Rounding out the program are the standard "My One and Only Love," Michael Jackson's funky "Working Day and Night," Duke Ellington's sonorous "Creole Love Song," the Al Hirt hit "Java" and Macchia's New Orleans-shaped "Bluesalicious!"

While there are solos on every number (as able as one could wish), the emphasis is on the ensemble and Macchia's sophisticated and exotic charts, which wrest as much color and dynamics as one could envision from a six-member reed section. As for Erskine, he performs his duties as "rhythm section" with characteristic style and poise, moving easily from samba to funk, swing to ballad. Tempos are often challenging but Macchia seldom strays far from the basic melody.

Those who have heard Macchia on record before should be well-prepared to expect the unexpected. Those who haven't may rest assured that his musicality and that of his teammates is beyond reproach, and that Saxolollapalooza is brisk and refreshing from end to end.

Track Listing: Air Mail Special; Down by the Riverside; My One and Only Love; Working Day and Night; Java; Caravan; Shortening Bread; Bluesalicious!; Creole Love Song; Work Song; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; That's A-Plenty.

Personnel: Frank Macchia: conductor, arranger, tenor sax, baritone sax, flute; Eric Marienthal: alto, soprano sax, flute; Sal Lozano: alto sax, piccolo, clarinet; Bob Sheppard: tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Gene Cipriano: baritone sax, clarinet, flute; Jay Mason: bass sax, bass clarinet; Peter Erskine: drums, percussion.

Title: Saxolollapalooza | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Cacophony

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