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Andy Biskin: Songs from the Alan Lomax Collection

Glenn Astarita By

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Alan Lomax's (1915-2002) field recordings and research heightened our awareness of folk music, i.e. Americana. He reintroduced many of us to our cultural origins where other musical genres received their humble beginnings. Shortly after graduating college, clarinetist, composer Andy Biskin was Lomax's research assistant. And here, the artist revisits the aura of Lomax's lifelong plight and efforts by forging a union with folk, jazz, classical and manifold interpretations that intimate little big band-like arrangements.

The clarinetist and trumpeters John Carlson, Dave Smith and Kenny Warren are an outstanding and insightful front line sans a bassist, as drummer Rob Garcia creatively handles the pulse, complemented by his pumping and accenting bass drum work. Yet Biskin is no stranger to taking on complex projects, such as Early American: The Melodies of Stephen Foster (Self-Produced, 2006) with luminaries such as guitarist Pete McCann and drummer, composer John Hollenbeck.

The quintet instills a surfeit of melodic and expressive content to satisfy a broad listening base via intricate arrangements, executed with finesse and the utmost agility. For instance, on "Blue Tale Fly"—a minstrel song from the 1840s—the trumpeters and Biskin start with a dirge motif that transforms into a jubilant bluesy folk number, in addition to jazzy choruses and darting inflections, extended with progressive jazz breakouts and the frontline's luminous solo spots.

"House Carpenter" is etched on a gorgeous theme, radiated by Biskin's eloquent lines and a shifting horns vamp amid polytonal sound designs and Garcia's shiny cymbals treatments. Many of these pieces are enacted with rapid movements and unanticipated bypasses and reinventions of a given theme, due to the soloists' feisty improv segments. But "Muskrat" is a playful spin on a children's song that could also be a soundtrack for a B-grade cowboy movie, due to Garcia's brisk rim-shots that rekindle memories of how musicians would portray horse gallops.

Diversity and the band's keen ability to reimagine tuneful Americana is evident during "Knock John Booker," which is an African-American children's game song originally recorded by Aunt Molly McDonald on an Alabama farm in 1940. Here, the quintet homogenizes this song into a ballsy and triumphant shaker and mover. "Am I Born to Die" is a hymnal that upsurges into a brash motif, and the band finalizes the production with the perennial favorite, "She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain." With this piece, the musicians fuse urban jazz grooves into a rural bluegrass setting, prodded by the drummer's swift shuffle beats and the soloists' hearty voicings. Once again, Biskin batters preconceived borders with refreshing sounds and a nouveau approach to some of the unlikeliest candidates to be represented within the jazz canon. *A top pick for 2018...

Track Listing: Sweet Betsy from Pike; Grey Goose; Blue Tail Fly; Down in the Valley; House Carpenter; Go Fish; Lily Munroe; Tom Dooley; Muskrat; Knock John Booker; Am I Born to Die?; She'll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain; Sweet Betsy from Pike (Reprise).

Personnel: Andy Biskin: clarinet, bass clarinet; John Carlson: trumpet; Dave Smith: trumpet; Kenny Warren: trumpet; Rob Garcia: drums.

Title: Songs from the Alan Lomax Collection | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Andorfin

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