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Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra: Shrimp Tale

Dan Bilawsky By

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Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra: Shrimp Tale Light flourishes, grand pronouncements, fleeting and flitting figures, sudden shifts in mood, and wide emotional arcs are part and parcel of the music created by the Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra.

Chan, a classically trained pianist who came up in Hong Kong, hopped all over the United States while honing his writing skills. He studied jazz arranging as an undergraduate at the University of Miami, acquired a master's degree in composition at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, did his doctoral work at the University of Southern California, and sharpened his pen as a member of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop in New York City. Through those varied situations, he received guidance, advice and encouragement from some superb writers, including Gary Lindsay, Shelly Berg, Vince Mendoza, and Jim McNeely. The work of each of those men has rubbed off on Chan, yet his writing doesn't ape their respective styles; he's quickly established his own voice, and it's one worth taking note of.

Rancho Calaveras (Crown Heights Audio Network, 2013)—an EP that featured three pieces—helped Chan gain some traction with the jazz press, and Shrimp Tale fulfills the promise hinted at on that eighteen-minute long release. Those three previously released numbers and five other winners fill out the first full length release from this Los Angeles-based band. The music has a way of balancing reverence and revelry, positivity and pathos, and gusto and gentility. Quick, clever, and well-executed shifts in mood, meter, and musical language define Chan's work. One piece might tap into ancient Japanese traditions, shift its view to modern day China, and throw in a bluesy episode before heading back to olden days ("Moving To A New Capital"); another may cook and burn, as salsa works its way into the picture and guest trumpeter Wayne Bergeron flies high; and others may celebrate the connective relationship(s) between words and music, as Lauren Marks brings poet Elaine Cohen's text to life while Chan paints with dark ("Monte Alban") and light ("Solita") colors.

While Chan's writing is the star, his orchestra has no shortage of compelling solo voices. Kevin Garren's soprano saxophone provides rays of sunshine, trumpeter Michael Stever makes his mark on a few occasions, and Tom Luer's tenor is the heart of the sweeping "Rene's Barcarolle." More than ten different top-notch players in the group get to stand in the spotlight at one time or another.

It's hard to believe this band, founded in 2011, was still basically in its infancy when it recorded this album in 2013. The Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra is a well-oiled machine, and one that moves and acts like no other.

Track Listing: Tsu Zu Ku; Shrimp Tale; A Spirit’s Dream; Moving to a New Capital; Monte Alban; Solita; Rene’s Barcarolle; Rancho Calaveras.

Personnel: Alan Chan: composer, arranger; Rob Schaer: trumpet; Rick Baptist: trumpet; Tony Bonsera: trumpet; Michael Stever: trumpet; Kevin Garren, Alex Budman, Tom Luer, Jeff Driskill (2, 3, 5), Vince Trombetta (1-4, 6-8), Ken Fisher: saxophones; Andy Martin: trombone (1-4, 6-8); Charlie Morillas: trombone; Dave Ryan: trombone (2, 3, 5); Paul Young: trombone; Steve Hughes: trombone; Andrew Synowiec: guitar, banjo; Andy Langham: piano; David Hughes: bass; Jamey Tate: drums; Lauren Marks: narrator (4, 5); Darla Driskill, Zane Driskill: children’s chorus (8). Special Guest — Wayne Bergeron: trumpet (2).

Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Crown Heights Audio Network | Style: Big Band


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