Saturday, May 31, 2014

These Most Impressive "Views"

"Views From the Inside" (Whirlwind Recordings) is the debut CD of the JC Sanford Orchestra.  Sanford, a fine trombonist/arranger/composer, is well-represented on recordings having co-led the Schumacher/Sanford Sound Assembly, conducted the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, the Joel Harrison 19, the Alan Ferber Nonet with Strings, and the Alice Coltrane Orchestra.  He did his undergraduate work at the University of North Iowa and went on to study with Bob Brookmeyer at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Like his mentor Brookmeyer, his music for large ensemble blends brilliant section writing with highly intelligent melodies, advanced harmonies and, on the faster pieces, a brilliant use of percussion.  And, like most large ensembles/big bands, Sanford utilizes a very smart drummer/percussionist, in this instance the inventive Satoshi Takeishi.  Anyone who listens to contemporary music knows Takeishi's work with such artists as John Hebert, Shoko Nagai, Leslie Pintchik, Erik Friedlander and Anthony Braxton.  His partners in the rhythm section include Tom Beckham (vibraphone), Jacob Garchik (accordion), and Aidan O'Donnell (acoustic bass).   Reed players include Dan Willis (oboe, piccolo, flute, soprano), Ben Kono (Englsih horn, bass clarinet, clarinet, flute, alto saxophone), Chris Bacas (clarinet, soprano sax, tenor sax), Kenny Berger (contra-alto clarinet, bassoon, alto flute) while the brass section features Taylor Haskins (trumpet, flugelhorn, harmonizer), Matt Holman (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mark Patterson (tenor trombone), Jeff Nelson (tuba, bass trombone), Chris Komer (French horn) and the leader playing trombone solos on 2 tracks. Rounding the ensemble are Meg Okura (violin, electronics) and Will Martina (cello, electronics).

Sanford spreads 5 longer works through the recording, among them "An Attempt At Serenity." This piece opens the program with voices coming at the listener from all sides of the spectrum describing multiple "sufferings" (described by the composer as an "eight-layered cacophony of overlapping Buddhist recitations fear-based sufferings") out of which dark chords and instrumental cries begin to submerge the words leading to Berger's angry contra-alto clarinet taking the podium. After these "negative" sounds come to an abrupt halt, Holman's trumpet leads the band and listener into a more serene and assured aural-scape.

The title track, the longest cut at 15:12, stands out for its breadth and creative reach.  Created for Jill Echo and the Take Dance Company, the music goes through many sections, from chaos to serenity, dissonance to breath-taking melodic passages. Stravinsky, Copland, Stan Kenton, Steve Reich, myriad connections are made as the music unfolds; one feels as if the title refers to the composer as he works to make the sounds in his mind become reality, first onto paper then translated/interpreted by the musicians into what we hear (and begin to interpret from our life experiences.)

Included in the program are 5 of Sanford's "Brooklyn Vignettes", music inspired by the composer's residence. They range from the atmospheric "2nd & 7th" (as if the listener was walking down the street and came across a concert) to "Brownieland" (an ominous piece that pits Garchik's "wheezing" accordion against the intermittent brass, strings and Takeishi's imaginative percussion).  Later in the program, the listener joins the ensemble for an amble through "Sunset Park, Sunset Park", a composition that blends Takeishi's "whisking" percussion, a short melodic figure for vibes and accordion, Reich-like percussive phrases from the strings and dark chords that culminates in a gentle finale. The final "....Vignette", "Verrazano Bikeride", opens with an accordion figure that reminds this listener of works by Guy Klucevsek before morphing into a blues shuffle and setting for a fine Sanford solo that quotes from "A Love Supreme" as the percussionist engages him in a heated "conversation." There are also 3 pieces titled "Pre-Systems",  "Inter-Systems" and "Systems Two (Brooklyn Vignette # 6"); the first 2 are improvised duets for Haskins' trumpet/harmonizer and Takeishi with the final piece (dedicated to the studio where the sessions took place) starting with the duo and adding an orchestration for the full ensemble.

At nearly 70 minutes, "Views From the Inside" is truly a magnificent triumph but one that will take listeners time to appreciate. One hears a variety of melodies, imaginative arrangements, splendid musicianship, forceful and emotional solos, and ideas coming at one, seemingly, from all sides.  When all is said and done, I return to my initial response; "wow!"  For more information, go to or to Kudos also to Executive Producer Michael Janisch for making this music available to the world.

Listen to "Your Word Alone" for a sample of JC Sanford's musical visions:

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