Thursday, August 1, 2019

Contemporary Jazz Orchestras + Speaking With Bob B

Pianist, composer, conductor, arranger, and educator Mike Holober has been involved with the New York City jazz scene since 1986. He has led or co-led groups, played with a slew of artists (from The Tim Ries Rolling Stone Project to saxophonist Jason Rigby's bands to jazz orchestras led by John Fedchock, Alan Ferber, Tony Kadleck, The WDR Big Band, the HR Big Band, Pete McGuinness's Jazz Orchestra, and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra).  He's been on the faculty of The City College of New York since 1995 and teaches composition and arranging at The Manhattan School of Music plus conducts workshops around the country and the world.  From 2007 - 2015, Holober served as Associate Director of the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop, where he taught with Director Jim McNeely.  Among the groups he has led are the Westchester (NY) Jazz Orchestra, The Gotham Jazz Orchestra, a Quintet, and an octet known as Balancing Act plus the 45-member Gotham Wind Symphony.  

The Gotham Jazz Orchestra has just issued its third album (and first since 2009). The two-CD set, "Hiding Out" (Zoho Records), contains two long suites (one, "Flow", is four-part, the other, the title track, in five-parts) and the opening track "Jumble" which was commissioned in 2008 by the US Army Jazz Nights.  The final track, "Carminhos Cruzados", comes from the prolific mind of Antonio Carlos Jobim:  There's actually two version with the final cut a "radio edit" of the first (it's only 79 seconds shorter than the first but cuts out some of trumpeter Marvin Stamm's parts).  What stands out throughout the recording is Holober's excellent writing for the different sections, how the Orchestra creates a singular sound even though two different drummers split the four tracks equally, and the maturity of the compositions.  One can intuit the influence of Bob Brookmeyer as solos grow organically out of the composed material.

The two suites are quite different.  Both are inspired by the composer's retreats from the city: "Flow" sprang out of Holober's time at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire while the title track was inspired and composed on a journey to Wyoming. The four-part "Flow" opens with "Tear of the Clouds", a 14-minute section that takes its time to unfold, opening to a powerful tenor saxophone solo from Jason Rigby.  Listen to how the piano and guitar (Jay Azzolina) support the saxophone while bassist John H├ębert and drummer Jared Schonig spur Rigby forward.  "Movement 2: Opalescence" has a handsome brass opening section with the flutes of Ben Kono, Billy Drewes, Adam Kolker, and Rigby coloring the thematic material.  The solo section belongs to trumpeter Marvin Stamm but pay attention to the flutes and the fine piano accompaniment of the leader.  The short (1:49) penny whistle "Interlude" (played by Kono) leads into "Movement 4: Harlem" another 14 minute track that opens with an unaccompanied alto saxophone solo from Billy Drewes.  When the rhythm section enters, the music changes into a high-driving and swinging dance for the alto saxophonist to continue playing over.  Holober introduces the next episode with his funky piano figure before the entire band dances in led by Schonig's dancing drums.  Trumpeter Scott Wendholt steps out for a crisp solo over the rampaging drums with occasional responses from the brass and reeds.  The music slows down and momentarily belongs to the Holober's piano before he leads the ensemble in for a full-throated closing section with a delightful give-and-take from the alto sax, clarinet, and trumpet.

The five-part "Hiding Out" suite may speak of an escape from the city especially in its gentle "Prelude" with chord created by the reeds as well as a lovely melody by Kono's piccolo and Stamm's trumpet – note the handsome brass arrangement near the end. "Movement 2: Compelled" opens with a gentle unaccompanied piano melody before the flutes and clarinet enter playing a melody that Holober continues to support underneath.  Various voices share the melody lines as the piece grows ever-so-gently into a handsome guitar spot for Steve Cardenas. The sections swirl around him while the bass and drums (Mark Ferber) keep the rhythms flowing.  As the ensemble fades out, Holober takes a musical journey first building a variation of the original melody and then dancing over the rhythm section.  The band returns to reiterate its earlier statement before the piano leads the song out.  "Movement 3: Four Haiku" is literally four short melodic statements sans solos, gentle phrases passed around the sections save for the bass and drums.  Holober's short unaccompanied piano "Interlude", with  the recording echoes of earlier melodies, leads the listener in to "Movement 5: "It Was Just The Wind"; the longest track on the recording at 18:30.  The piano is alone for the opening 90 seconds until the rhythm section enters. Soon, the music is pouring out from the entire ensemble, melodic phrases shared by the reeds and brass until the alto saxophone of Jon Gordon steps out over the rhythm section. Tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker is next with a fiery statement over the very active horns. At the climax of his statement, the music takes a turn into a frisky rhythm and a delightful Fender Rhodes solo from the leader – the occasional melodic fills from the reeds and brass plus a repetitive bass clarinet figure support Holober until he really digs in.  He switches to acoustic piano and the music changes as now the reeds and brass are featured.  Cardenas returns to take the piece out, working with as well as apart from the sections.

The album "Hiding Out" contains many moments of beauty, of melodies that singi and harmonies that ring, with solos that have power and grace.  Give this music the time it deserves to enter your mind (and heart) – its rewards are plentiful.  Mike Holober & The Gotham Jazz Orchestra have made one splendid musical adventure!

For more information, go to

Here's the long version of the Jobim tune:


Mike Holober - all tracks, Conductor, Leader, Piano/Fender Rhodes 
Billy Drewes - alto, soprano, flute on Flow 
Jon Gordon - alto, soprano on Hiding Out, Jumble 
Dave Pietro - alto, soprano, flute, piccolo on Hiding Out, Jumble, Caminhos Cruzados 
Ben Kono - alto, soprano, flute, clarinet, piccolo, penny whistle on Flow, Caminhos Cruzados 
Adam Kolker - tenor, flute, alto flute, clarinet – all tracks 
Jason Rigby - tenor, flute, clarinet on Flow 
Charles Pillow - tenor, flute, clarinet, alto flute on Hiding Out, Jumble 
Steve Kenyon - baritone, bass clarinet on Hiding Out, Jumble 
Carl Maraghi - baritone, bass clarinet on Flow, Caminhos Cruzados 
Tony Kadleck - all tracks 
Liesl Whitaker - all tracks 
Scott Wendholt - all tracks 
James de LaGarza - on Tear of the Clouds, Harlem, Jumble 
Marvin Stamm - on Hiding Out, Opalescence, Caminhos Cruzados 
Tim Albright - all tracks 
Mark Patterson - on Flow, Jumble, Caminhos Cruzados 
Alan Ferber - on Flow, Jumble, Caminhos Cruzados 
Bruce Eidem - on Hiding Out 
Pete McGuinness - on Flow 
Nathan Durham - bass trombone on all tracks 
Steve Cardenas - on Hiding Out 
Jesse Lewis - on Jumble, Caminhos Cruzados 
Jay Azzolina - on Flow 
John Hebert - all tracks 
Drums/ Percussion 
Mark Ferber - on Hiding Out, Caminhos Cruzados 
Jared Schonig - on Flow, Jumble 
Rogerio Boccato - on Hiding Out, Jumble,

Trombonist, vocalist, arranger, and composer Pete McGuinness, a native of West Hartford, CT, is a graduate of the famed Hall High School music program who went on the New England Conservatory of Music and the University of Miami, then earned his graduate degree at the Manhattan School of Music. McGuinness studied with Bob Brookmeyer and Manny Album in the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop.  He's been on the New York City jazz scene as long as his good friend Mike Holober, playing in the pianist's large ensembles as well as experiences with the Woody Herman Orchestra, Jim Cifelli's Nonet, and Bill Mobley's "SMOKE Big Band" plus recorded with the Maria Schneider Orchestra on "Concert in The Garden".  Although he had been co-leader on several albums in the 1990s, it was not until 2007 that McGuinness signed with Summit Records and released his first Jazz Orchestra album.

His latest recording, "Along For The Ride" (Summit), is the third Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra album (and fourth for the label).  The 17-member ensemble is comprised of New York City-based musicians, many of whom have worked together in groups led by Maria Schneider, Alan Ferber, Ryan Truesdell, and others.  Powered by an excellent four-person rhythm section including pianist Holober and drummer Scott Neumann, the music that McGuinness has composed and/or arranged for this project gives everyone the opportunity to shine. The leader, whose previous album "Voice Like a Horn", featured a smaller ensembles as well as his fine trombone work and handsome tenor voice, keeps both under wraps much of the time (save for a wordless vocal on "You Must Believe in Spring", singing the lovely ballad "May I Come In", and unpacking his 'bone for a delightful solo on his original "Point of Departure", not the Andrew Hill composition).

McGuinness's program has a healthy balance of slower pieces with full-throated romps. The latter is represented on tunes such as the venerable standard "Put On a Happy Face." After the brass and reeds introduce the tune (notice the sly call-and-response before the melody is played), there are several delightful solos,  especially Holober's exciting turn.   Nat Adderley's "Jive Samba", which opens with a six-note phrase older listeners may recognize from "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In", is a playful dance – Holober switches to electric piano, a sound that hearkens back to Joe Zawinul's work with Cannonball Adderley's Quintet.

Two of the tracks, both McGuinness originals, exceed 11 minutes.  "Old Roads" has great section work around a handsome melody replete with counterpoint and harmonies. Holober's piano solo stands out for his ability to tell a story while he's "singing".  The piece is capped by a short but catchy drum solo and a trumpet outro that takes its time to reflect on the song.  "Aftermath", the longest cut at 12:27, opens as an introspective ballad with the rhythm section providing the ethereal introduction before Dave Pietro plays the melody on soprano saxophone.  It's his piece throughout even as the brass and reeds enter to raise the tension.  Pietro responds and the piece moves out, loses its darker edge when he plays a danceable duet with Neumann's drums.  When that ends, there's a delightful soprano sax round that leads to a short piano solo.  The episodic nature of the piece, with several different mood shifts, all feature the soprano saxophonist. Near the close of the piece, he plays a beautiful, soulful, melody, that hearkens back to the ethereal opening.

"Along For The Ride" closes with "One For the Maestro", the leader's tribute to his Hall High Band Director Bill Stanley.  It's the most traditional piece on the album, With a sound that is reminiscent of the Count Basie bands of the 1950s and 60s, serving as a coda to a most delightful "ride".  Pete McGuinness has shown himself to be an excellent arranger and his original compositions on this album are among the most mature of his three+ decades.  The Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra, now in its 13th year, makes music to savor!

For more information, go to

Here's a track to enjoy:


Pete McGuinness: leader, composer, arranger, trombone;
Bill Mobley: trumpet; Jon Owens: trumpet; Tony Kadleck: trumpet; Chris Rogers: trumpet;
Dave Riekenberg: alto sax; Dave Pietro: alto and soprano sax; Rob Middleton: tenor sax; Mark Phaneuf: tenor sax; Tom Christensen: baritone sax;
Jeff Nelson: trombone; Matt Haviland: trombone; Bruce Eidem: trombone; Mark Patterson: bass trombone;
Mike Holober: piano; Paul Meyers: guitar; Andy Ealau: bass; Scott Neumann: drums.

Just received an email from educator, bandleader, arranger, and composer that his new book "Bob Brookmeyer: In Conversation with Dave Rivello" should be out in print by mid-August.  Rivello funded his book through ArtistShare – writer's note: I happily supported the project being a fan of Mr. Brookmeyer's music since the 1982 release of "Make Me Smile" by the Mel Lewis & The Jazz Orchestra (why has this classic album never been reissued on CD?) Mr. Brookmeyer (1929-2011, pictured above) had a long career that hit some bumps along the road but really he always could play his valve trombone and piano and really hit his stride in the mid-1980s after shaking off his addictions.  His songs and arrangements for various large ensembles, including his own New Art Orchestra, are among the most adventurous in contemporary music plus his work as an educator influenced a slew of bandleaders including Mr. Rivello, Darcy James Argue, Jim McNeely (who wrote the "Forward" in the new book), Maria Schneider, Mike Holober, Ayn Inserto, and so many more.

The author sat with his mentor over several days in January 2010 and recorded their discussions.  He sent along a digital copy and, while I do not possess much musical intelligence, Mr. Brookmeyer's stories, some funny, some straight-forward, always truthful, are a pleasure to read.  He talks about the influence of 20th Century Classical music on his later compositions, chats about the experiments he attempted in his arrangements, and about how happy he was teaching, composing, arranging, and recording into his 80s. There's plenty of technical talk that should please students as well as an understanding of the creative mind at work (and the plain fact that creativity is work, a lot of work, but for Brookmeyer – especially later in life – fun and rewarding).

To find out more, go to

Let me tempt you with a track from Bob Brookmeyer New Art Orchestra:

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