Thursday, January 25, 2018

Let's Dance, say the Drummers

Drummer, composer, and arranger Rob Garcia is a very busy artist. Besides working with his own quartet, he is also the founder and artistic director of a non-profit organization called Connection Works, works and records with groups such as Svetlana and The Delancey Five and Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra, and is an active member of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground.

His new project is a delightful aural treat. Aptly titled "Drum Solos for Dancers Only" (Connection Works Records), Garcia has created a program that will help people who love to dance realize that it's the drummer who gets them up and onto their feet and provides the impetus to keep going (not to slight the wailing horns, the athletic bass lines, the propulsive left hand of the pianist, and others).  The 13 pieces emphasize different dances ("Savoy Steps", "Honey Soft Shoe", "Elastic Boogie", etc) and it is impossible for the listener (or, the writer at the keyboard) to sit still.  It's fascinating to hear the different melody lines - yes, melody - that Garcia creates here. Listen to "Americana Thrill" -  do you hear the theme from Ferde Grofé's "Grand Canyon Suite"?

The album is not Rob Garcia showing off but illustrating how he can direct an orchestra and how to keep folks on the dance floor.  Technically, it's brilliant but this is neither a thesis project nor an exact history lesson.  Throughout the recording, you hear the influences of people like Chick Webb, Sonny Greer, Gene Krupa, and the countless drummers of the "swing era" and beyond.  In the long run, this is music for and about movement. The music brings people together, gives them a reason to have fun, to express themselves physically, to work out frustrations - it's why we sing in the car or the shower, why we go to concerts, why we sit up late at night listening to albums that turned our heads 40, 50 years ago.  Dancing can free us of certain inhibitions and I recommend you listen to this album really loud - Come on, "everybody dance now!"

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Frank Perowsky is a clarinetist and saxophonist from Des Moines, Iowa, who's been involved in the New York City music scene since graduating from the Juilliard School in the late 1950s. He's worked with bands led byWoody Herman, Jimmy Dorsey, in Broadway pit bands, backing singers such as Billy Eckstine, Peggy Lee, and Mel Torme, plus a three decade-plus working relationship with Liza Minnelli. One thing Frank Perowsky has yet to become is a prolific recording artist in his own right.

His new album, "An Afternoon in Gowanus" (JazzKey Music), features his 16-piece Jazz Orchestra (plus vocalist Ira Hawkins) and is his first album since he recorded "Bop on Pop" with  his son, drummer Ben Perowsky and organist Sam Yahel, in 2001.  The latest disc hearkens back to the days of the Count Basie Band, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, with hints of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra.

Look at the lineup and you'll see many familiar names. The saxophone section includes Jerry Dodgion, Loren Stillman, John Ellis, Bob Franceschini, and Roger Rosenberg while the trumpets include Seneca Black, Chris Rogers, Antoine Drye, and Waldren Ricks. The trombone section boasts the big sounds of Sam Burtis, Jacob Garchik, Brian Drye, and Joe Randazzo.  Besides Ben Perowksy at the drums, the rhythm section includes pianist David Berkman and bassist Aidan O'Donnell. The program, recorded in front of a live audience, features a bright selection of originals and intelligent arrangements of works by John Lewis, Tom McIntosh, Duke Ellington,  Bud Powell and Larry Young.  The Young piece, "Talkin' About J.C.", is a smart re-working of the organist's 1962 work recorded by Grant Green.  First of all, it swings like mad and opens up to a number of fine solos.  It's the blues that underpins this music, whether it's the happy-go-lucky original "Big Apple Circus" that opens the album or the quiet ballad "Paris Dreams", a vehicle for trombonist Burtis. Even on the latter track, there is a bounce in the rhythm section. I dare you to sit still on John Lewis's "Two Bass Hit" as it roars right out of the gates powered by the powerful drums.

When you listen all the way through "An Afternoon in Gowanus" a few times, you realize just how much fun this band is having.  Frank Perowksy's arrangements leave plenty of room for solos and the sectional work is exciting and active, quite complementary throughout.  This is "live" music, alive in many ways.  Perhaps no new ground is covered but never does it sound stale, re-hashed, or a pale copy of bands past.  This is the kind of music for a crowded nightclub or concert hall, sounds that fill the air and have the power to block out negativity.  Play it loud and enjoy!

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Here's a taste:

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