Mike Fahie Jazz Orchestra: Urban(e)

Jack Bowers By

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Mike Fahie Jazz Orchestra: Urban(e)
Most Western music, irrespective of its origin and premise, inhabits the same harmonic, chordal and rhythmic universe. So it should not be surprising that classical music, in the hands of a skilled arranger, can be readily recast in a jazz idiom, even one that is housed within a big-band framework. On Urban(e), trombonist Mike Fahie's New York-based Jazz Orchestra braves that challenge, quickening Fahie's translations of works by Frederic Chopin, Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, Bela Bartok, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and J.S. Bach, along with Giacomo Puccini's exquisite aria, "Nessun Dorma," wrapping them in modern clothing that suits some wearers better than others.

The adventure begins well enough with Chopin's melodious "Prelude," Op. 28 no. 20, on which pianist Randy Ingram, baritone saxophonist Carl Maraghi and drummer Jeff Davis shine. The lovely "Nessun Dorma," from Puccini's opera Turandot, fares reasonably well as a showcase for tenor saxophonist Chet Doxos, even though the various "night sounds" do nothing to enhance its charm and the tempo could use some backbone. The wardrobe starts to unravel on Stravinsky's Firebird suite, which meanders more than it prances behind respectable solo turns by Ingram, tenor Quinsin Nachoff and (simultaneously) Fahie (euphonium) and tubaist Jennifer Wharton. Fahie (trombone) is featured on the elegant "La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin" from Debussy's Preludes, Book 1, but here again the pace is on the sluggish side, as if to emphasize its beauty at the expense of buoyancy.

While the pace quickens on Bartok's "String Quartet No. 1," its allure is diminished by an incessant rock beat that is only partially redeemed by the exertions of trombonist Daniel Linden and trumpeter Brad Mason. Guitarist Jeff Miles also solos, but the less said about that the better. Tchaikovsky is up next—specifically, the second movement from his "Symphony No. 6," the Pathetique. Although Fahie does his best to redesign the piece and induce it to swing, Tchaikovsky really got the tempo and phrasing right (as one would expect) and the newer version, in striving to improve on that, instead takes a step backward. It does, however, include pleasing solos by alto Aaron Irwin and trombonist Nick Grinder. Bach's even-tempered "Seufzer, Tranen, Kummer, Not" from the Cantata, BWV 21, closes the session on an agreeable note with sharp ensemble work and astute solos by Fahie—again on trombone— and trumpeter David Smith.

The upshot is rather a mixed bag (or curate's egg, as those in the UK would say), with high marks for conception, a relatively lower score for results. Which is not to say there isn't an ample amount of engaging music on offer. There is. But the moments of satisfaction are tempered by others that may best be depicted as "nice try, but . . ." On the other hand, everyone is doing his (or her) best, which more often than not is quite rewarding.

Track Listing

Prelude, Op. 28 no. 20; Nessun Dorma; Excerpts from The Firebird; La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin from Preludes, Book 1; String Quartet No. 1, III. Allegro vivace; Symphony No. 6, II. Allegro con grazia; “Seufzer, Tranen, Kummer, Not” from Cantata, BWV 21.


Mike Fahie: trombone; Brian Pareschi: trumpet; David Smith: trumpet; Sam Hoyt: trumpet; Brad Mason: trumpet; Aaron Irwin: saxophone; Anton Denner: saxophone, alto; Chet Doxos: saxophone, tenor; Quinsin Nachoff: saxophone; Carl Maraghi: saxophone, baritone; Matthew McDonald: trombone; Nick Grinder: trombone; Daniel Linden: trombone; Jennifer Wharton: trombone; Jeff Miles: guitar; Randy Ingram: piano; Pedro Giraudo: bass; Jeff Davis: drums.

Album information

Title: Urban(e) | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Greenleaf Music

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