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Randy Sandke and the Metatonal Big Band: The Subway Ballet

Ken Dryden By

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Trumpeter Randy Sandke, considered a mainstream jazz stylist, reveals another side on this release, compiled from two sessions recorded about fifteen years apart.

The Subway Ballet is a wild suite scored for big band (substituting vibes and xylophone for piano) that utilizes a metatonal harmonic approach, frequently sounding like snippets of music written for a suspense movie. Key centers are often fleeting, though most of the charts seem tightly scored. Sandke's compositions fit his individual titles perfectly; it is easy to conjure characters to match them as the music unfolds.

Sandke's setting for the piece is in the early '80s, when New York City was viewed as a dangerous place. "Watch the Closing Doors and "Dance of the Downtown Punks are very ominous, followed by the breezy, playful "Electricglide, showcasing trombonist Wycliffe Gordon to good effect, who sounds like he would have enjoyed playing with Spike Jones. Sandke pulls all stops in the hilarious "Dance of the Hassidic Diamond Merchants, which blends traditional Jewish themes with David Krakauer's deliciously loopy clarinet solo. "Making Tracks, featuring alto saxophonist Ted Nash, is suggestive of Eric Dolphy's late work. Although no one has yet choreographed Sandke's intriguing ballet for dancers, it would be a challenging, worthwhile venture.

The last four selections are grouped as "Music From 1988, described by Sandke as unreleased music that never found a home. The highlight, the gritty "Red Hook Blues, finds Jim McNeely making a rare appearance on organ. The eerie "How Did It Get So Late is a modern classical effort intermingling scored and improvised sections. Less interesting are "Happy Birthday Berlin, an ear-jarring techno track that seems out of place and "Realization, with the flavor of a generic rock soundtrack to an '80s action flick.

Track Listing: Watch the Closing Doors; Dance of the Downtown Punks; Electriglide; Dance of the Wall Street Brokers; Steel Wheels; Dance of the Hassidic Diamond Merchants; Making Tracks; The Blind Beggar Encounters the Korean Peddler; Momentum; Dance of the Midtown Career Women; Straphanging; Pas de Deux; Express Stop; 125th Street; Red Hook Blues; Happy Birthday Berlin; How Did It Get So Late; Realization.

Personnel: Chuck Wilson: alto sax, flute, piccolo; Ted Nash: alto sax, flute; Scott Robinson: tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet; John Allred: trombone; Joe Barati: bass trombone; Steven Bernstein: trumpet, slide trumpet; Erik Charlston: percussion, xylophone, vibraphone; Mike Christianson; trombone; Greg Cohen: bass; Jim Czak: voices; Glenn Drewes: trumpet; John Goldsby: bass; Wycliffe Gordon: trombone; John Riley: drums; John Hayward: drum machine; David Krakauer: clarinet; Jim McNeely: organ, piano; Bob Millikan: trumpet; Gerry Neiwood: flute, alto sax; Randy Sandke: trumpet, flugelhorn, electric guitar, keyboards, piccolo trumpet; Jack Stuckey: bass clarinet, baritone sax; Kenny Washington: drums; Walt Weiskopf: clarinet, tenor sax; Scott Wilson: clarinet, flute, soprano sax, tenor sax.

Title: The Subway Ballet | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Evening Star Records


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