Saturday, August 6, 2011

"Suite" Sounds

Here's a smashing idea - take the music Herbie Hancock created for his 1965 "Maiden Voyage" Lp (Blue Note) and arrange the pieces for a large ensemble.  For its second recording, the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, Mike Holober, artistic director and conductor, have done just that and "Maiden Voyage Suite" is a rousing success.  No surprise really, considering the source material and the caliber of the musicians. The reed section includes Jay Brandford and David Brandom (alto sax, soprano sax), Ralph Lalama and Jason Rigby (tenor sax) plus Ed Xiques (baritone sax).  The 8-member brass section includes the trumpet/flugelhorn work of Tony Kadleck, Craig Johnson, Marvin Stamm and Jim Rotondi as well as the trombone contributions of Larry Dean Farrell, Keith O'Quinn, Bruce Eidem and George Flynn.  Add to that sparkling lineup the fine rhythm section of Ted Rosenthal, bassist Harvie S and drummer Andy Watson, the intelligent arrangements of Holober, Brandford, Kadleck and Pete McGuiness and the splendid studio work of engineer James Farber - turn them loose on Hancock's music and the listener is rewarded many times over.

Despite the title, "Maiden Voyage" was Hancock's 5th solo release and 3rd recorded during his tenure with Miles Davis's second "Classic Quintet" (1963-1970).  McGuinness's arrangement of the title track emphasizes the Brazilian lilt from the rhythm section (yet, it also sounds like Horace Silver) in the early moments of the piece but it's the magnificent work of the different sections beneath the soloists that is so exciting. The waves of sound as Brandom's soprano sax solo reaches its climax and the call-and-response of the sections in the closing minutes leading up to the reiteration of the theme is quite lovely.  Watson's cymbal splashes end the tune and leads the band into the driving intensity of "Eye of the Hurricane."  The tempo shifts arranger Holober builds into the work take their cue from the work Tony Williams created in 1965.  Soloists Rigby, Stamm (who shines each time he plays) and Rosenthal shine on their respective spots and the tandem of Harvie S and Watson really push them.

Kadleck, lead trumpeter in the Maria Schneider Orchestra, contributes a wonderful arrangement of "Dolphin Dance" that seems to take its cues from the work of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, with nods to Duke Ellington.  Brandford creates a delicious audio-scape for "Little One" while Holober makes the 2-part "Survival of the Fittest" a hard-bop wonderland with fiery solo work from Rotondi and Rigby (fueled by the ultra-intense rhythm section) plus an impressionistic romp from Rosenthal that serves as the bridge to Part 2. 

Holober created the "Prologue", "Interlude" and "Epilogue", 3 fairly short tone poems built from the melodies and harmonies of the 5 songs that comprise "Maiden Voyage."  None of the pieces feel like they have been tacked on to fill out the "Suite" - instead, they remind the listener of the Hancock's intent that the compositions grew out of his fascination with the sea, its different moods and diverse population.  Kudos go to the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, Mike Holober and Executive Director/Co-Founder Emily Tabin for creating new worlds of possibilities from Herbie Hancock's original visions.

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