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Lew Soloff and the Harmonie Ensemble New York: Sketches Of Spain

Bruce Lindsay By

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Trumpeter Lew Soloff, and the Harmonie Ensemble New York, conducted by Steve Richman, release their version of Sketches Of Spain 50 years after Miles Davis' original Columbia recording. The 1960 version is accorded classic status by many, but Soloff and Richman have produced a worthy successor.

So what's different? Well, one answer is "Not much." Soloff offers no radical reappraisal of the classic work. The album stays faithful to the Davis original: five tunes, each timed to within a few seconds of Davis' versions, with no additional bonus tracks or out-takes. The arrangements are Gil Evans' and many of Davis' solos are matched. But there is a difference, ensuring that Soloff and Richman have created a great record.

The difference is two-fold: modern technology; and Soloff himself. Twenty-first century recording technology gives this new album a greater clarity, the brass section is a little brighter sounding, and better separation enables each instrument to be heard more distinctly. The result is a top-quality recording and an ideal acoustic environment for the soloist.

New Yorker Soloff studied at the Julliard School, and came to prominence in the late '60s with Blood, Sweat and Tears. His link to Davis and Evans is direct: he played with Davis and has been a member of the Gil Evans Orchestra. Soloff's playing is uniformly outstanding—confident, precise, but emotionally involving. At times his resemblance to Davis is extremely close, but overall his sound is distinct: a little edgier than Davis; and a little more emphatic.

While this is undoubtedly Soloff's album, the Harmonie Ensemble New York gives him high quality support under Richman's direction. Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" is the album's centerpiece—a sweeping, cinematic and melancholic composition. Soloff captures the melancholy feel of the tune with great delicacy and the Harmonie Ensemble's own playing is beautifully sympathetic. Manuel de Falla's "Will O' The Wisp" features Soloff's upper register playing to great effect, with the Harmonie Ensemble horns adding to the tune's impact.

Evans' three compositions are also dramatic, confident, statements. "The Pan Piper" is the most effective—Soloff and the Ensemble's horn section interweave to create a smooth and fluid melodic pattern while bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Jim Musto underpin the melody with a gentle groove. "Saeta" and "Solea" feature some exceptional ensemble playing although both arrangements have moments when drama veers too close to melodrama.

The album cover image places Davis and Evans above the title: the names of Soloff and Richman are in the lower half of the image, almost as if the intention is to make potential buyers think this is a re-packaging of the original. It's an unnecessary ploy: this set has fine arrangements, great musicians, superb sound quality and, in Soloff, a soloist in terrific form. By any standard, this is an album of the highest quality.

Track Listing: Concierto de Aranjuez; Will O' The Wisp; The Pan Piper; Saeta; Solea.

Personnel: Lew Soloff: trumpet. The Harmonie Ensemble New York; Steve Richman: conductor; Dominic Derasse: trumpet; Kenny Rampton: trumpet; Joe Giorgianni: trumpet; Marc Osterer: trumpet; Mike Seltzer: trombone; Earl McIntyre: trombone; R. J. Kelley: French horn; Doug Lyons: French horn; Vincent Chancey: French horn; Marcus Rojas: tuba; Ed Joffe: reeds; Ralph Olsen: reeds; Rick Heckman: reeds; Charles Pillow: reeds; Ron Jannelli: reeds; Stacey Shames: harp; Francois Moutin: bass; Jim Musto: drums; Jon Haas: percussion; Erik Charlston: percussion.

Title: Sketches Of Spain | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Sheffield Labs


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