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Frank Macchia: Son of Folk Songs for Jazzers

Edward Blanco By

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Composer/arranger Frank Macchia explores twelve more American folk songs and their reinterpretation through jazz on Son of Folk Songs for Jazzers, a follow-up to his critically acclaimed Folk Songs for Jazzers (Cacophony, 2010), for which he received his third Grammy nod in the Best Instrumental Arrangement category. As with the first album, Macchia uses a fourteen-piece ensemble, with many of the same A-list musicians from the Los Angeles area, among them, Wayne Bergeron, Bob Sheppard, Bill Reichenbach and vocalist Tierney Sutton. A talented multi-instrumentalist, here Macchia plays everything from saxophones and flutes to melodica and organ, topping it off with a rough and growl vocal performance on "This Old Man."

Nevertheless, it is his skills as an arranger that help distinguish this effort, taking this concept album a step further with creative new arrangements that disguise, modify and shine new light on traditional folk songs transformed into vessels of jazz. The familiar children's nursery rhyme, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," begins as a lush ballad which morphs into a Latin-style opus featuring a variety of solos from the majority of band. Vocalist Ellis Hall employs a bluesy approach on "Careless Love," an old traditional folk song that guitarist Grant Geissman plays like a rock star.

A perfect example of the leader's arrangement prowess is drawn from the well-known "Three Blind Mice," form which Macchia extracts two different versions for this date: the first, "Three Jazzy Blind Mice," is a traditional contemporary jazz rendition featuring pianist Tom Ranier; the second, "Three Cool Blind Mice," sounds much like a mid-tempo cool swing, with a little brass and more of Geissman's guitar magic. "Itsy Bitsy Spider," a simple eight-bar nursery school favorite, turns out to be the album's most complicated arrangement—a challenging rendition that makes the basic melody hard to discern but pleasant to hear, and a highlight of the disc.

The American folk ballad "Silver Dagger" is given a new treatment, re-harmonized using woodwinds and baritone horns to back up Sutton's lovely lush vocal performance. The big band sound is alive and well on the swinging "Cindy/Li'l Liza Jane," while trombonist Alex Iles is showcased on the down-tempo ballad "Billy Boy." Baritone saxophonist Jay Mason and trombonist Kevin Porter are featured on "Frankie and Johnny," one of the pillars of this recording. Incidentally, a printing error on the packaging displays these two tracks in reverse order.

Macchia's idea of reinterpreting folk music through jazz—with the sheer number of songs to work with—felt somewhat incomplete after one album giving birth to Son of Folk Songs for Jazzers, completing the musician's goal of providing a new appreciation of this music, from a jazz perspective.

Track Listing: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star; Careless Love; Three Jazzy Blind Mice; Itsy Bitsy Spider; Work Songs Medley; Silver Dagger; Three Cool Blind Mice; Cindy/Li'l Liza Jane; Billie Boy; Frankie and Johnny; This Old Man; The Boating Medley.

Personnel: Valerie King: piccolo, flute, bass flute; Sal Lozano: alto sax, alto flute, bass flute, clarinet, contra alto clarinet; Bob Shepard: soprano sax, tenor sax, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet; Frank Macchia: tenor sax,flute, bass flute, clarinet, alto clarinet contra bass clarinet, melodica, organ, vocal (11); Jay Mason: baritone sax; soprano sax, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, contra bass clarinet, English horn; Wayne Bergeron: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alex Iles: trombone, baritone horn; Kevin Poter: trombone, bass trombone, baritone horn; Bil Reichenbach: trombone, baritone horn,bass trumpet, tuba; Tom Ranier: piano; Gram Geissman:: electric guitar: Trey Henry: bass; Peter Erskine: drums, motivation; Michael Hatfield: vibraphone, bass marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, tamborine, shaker; Tierney Sutton: vocal (6); Ellis Hall: vocal (2).

Title: Son of Folk Songs for Jazzers | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Cacophony


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