Monday, January 27, 2020

Large Ensemble Music January 2020

Composer, arranger, and pianist Emilio Solla was born and raised in Argentina, has lived and worked in cities such as Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Spain, and, in 2006, relocated to New York City.  He's has composed works for small ensembles, for symphony orchestras, and has worked with artists such as Paquito D'Rivera, Arturo O'Farrill, and Edmar Castañeda.  Like many of his contemporaries, Solla's music has been influenced by Astor Piazzaolla but his travels have added many different layers to his music.  His earlier albums came out on Fresh Sound New Talent; since 2014, he's been issuing his own recordings on his  Avantango Records labels.

Solla's latest audio adventure is the first by his 17-piece Tango Jazz Orchestra.  Titled "Puertos: Music From International Waters", the eight original compositions pay tribute to port cities around the world. They ranges from the dancing tribute to Havana, Cuba ("Sol La, al Sol" - to La Habana) to New York City ("Four For Miles") to the suave yet exciting "Chacafrik" (in honor of Benguela, Angola).  Just about all the music is built from the drums up (kudos to Ferenc Nemeth for his creative contributions) and the section arrangements really favor long passages with fine harmonies and counterpoint.  Pay attention to how Solla moves the different sections through melodies; an excellent example is "Andan Luces" (to Cádiz) where the melody lines are played by the piano, reeds, and accordion. The various solos jump off from the melodies – in the middle of the piece, the rhythm section gets to shine with solos from bassist Pablo Aslan and a long one from the leader.

The lovely ballad "La Novena" (to Buenos Aires) has a gentle, swaying, tango rhythm played by the piano and bass (Nemeth is quiet the first two minutes) while the melody is shared by soprano and baritone saxophones. The flute accompaniment rises above the soloist while the horns sit below; that leads into a fine solo from Labro (on bandoneon).  That track is followed by "Buenos Aires Blues" but the rocking, hard-hitting, piece is actually dedicated to New Orleans, LA.  Each one of the soloists gets a different feel beneath his solo; the rhythm section is somewhat below Noah Bless's trombone spot but picks up the intensity when trumpeter Alex Norris steps forward.  After the sax section plays a boppish section, baritonist Terry Goss takes over and the music calms down. It's Aslan's bowed bass supporting Labro's delightful accordion solo.  Piano and drums return while Labro dances on. Nemeth takes the piece back to the intro and on to the end.

Edmar Castaneda's harp leads the way on "Allegrón" (to Cartagena) sharing the lead lines with the soprano saxophone of Alejandro Aviles. The harpist's duet with Franco Pinna (bombo legüero) is highly rhythmical – note the interactions of the sections that lead the way to the splendid soprano solo.

"Puertos: Music From International Waters" shimmers with excitement, both melodic and rhythmical, as well as beauty. The songs that Emilio Solla created for the Tango Jazz Orchestra (several that have been recorded in smaller ensembles) have room for each musician to shine and for the arrangements that pique the listener's interest and make you return time and again.  Do listen and listen closely – this album is definitely worth your time!

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Alejandro Aviles: soprano and alto saxophones, flutes; 
Todd Bashore: flutes and clarinet; 
Tim Armacost: tenor saxophone, alto flute and clarinet; 
John Ellis: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet and flute; 
Terry Goss: baritone saxophone and bass clarinet; 
Alex Norris: trumpet and flugelhorn; 
Jim Seeley: trumpet and flugelhorn; 
Jonathan Powell: trumpet and flugelhorn; 
Noah Bless: trombone; 
Mike Fahie: trombone; 
Eric Miller: trombone; 
James Rodgers: bass trombone; 
Julien Labro: bandoneon and accordion; 
Emilio Solla: piano and conducting; 
Pablo Aslan: bass; 
Ferenc Nemeth: drums. 
 Guests – 
Samuel Torres: congas (“So La Al Sol”); 
Arturo Prendez: percussion & Arturo O’Farrill: piano (“Llegara, Llegara, Llegara”);
Franco Pinna: bombo legüero & Edmar Castañeda: harp (“Allegron”).

Here's a track for your listening pleasure:

Two of the producers for Solla's album plus the one below are Kahbir Sehgal and Paul Averginos – they certainly have great ears!

Photo: Warren Le Fever

Joe McCarthy, drummer, educator, and band leader, organized the New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band when he moved to the Big Apple in 2008. He has taught at schools around the United States plus played with the several ensembles associated with the United States Naval Academy Band.  A graduate of the University of North Texas (famed for its large ensembles), McCarthy worked with numerous artists including Paquito D'Rivera, Slide Hampton,  Arturo O'Farrill, and Linda May Han Oh.  He's also published a book/DVD called "Joe McCarthy Afro Cuban Big Band Play-Along Series" that is used by several different University music programs.

The New York Alliance Afro Bop Big Band issued its debut album in 2008 on Heads Up Records with guest Dave Samuels (vibraphone, marimba) – at that time, the ensemble was known as the Afro Bop Alliance.  They added "Big Band" to the name on the ensemble's 2016 release "Revelations" that came out on McCarthy's own label.  ZOHO Records is the home of album #3 titled, simply "Upwards" and now they've added "New York" to the name.  A glance below at the personnel and you'll see that the band is made up of first-call NYC musicians.  The rhythm section is anchored by the leader, bassist Boris Kozlov (on electric much of the album), pianist Manuel Valera (who provided the two of the songs and several of the arrangements), and master percussionist Samuel Torres.  It is noticeable from the start that those four musicians who set the band in motion.

Listen below to "Caravan."  Torres and McCarthy create a dynamic opening in a call-and-response that sets the table for the delightful take on the Juan Tizol - Duke Ellington classic.  If the rhythms don't move you, the excellent solos and intelligent arrangement will have you moving your feet.  The band has great fun with Valera's arrangement of John Lewis's "Afternoon in Paris",  the percussion pushing the band as they put a bop feel on the Latin rhythms.

As Torres and McCarthy dig into a heady groove, Valera's "Isabelita" has a lovely melody with excellent section writing. Strong solos from the composer, Kozlov, and trumpeter Dave Smith push the piece forward.  "Five for Elvin", composed by vibraphonist Samuels for the large ensemble's first album, is a tour-de-force, effortlessly changing speeds and tempos, with more fine section work plus percussion that really moves along with Valera's dancing piano riffs.

The album closes with guitarist Vinny Valentino's emotional ballad "Positano."  Note how the brass and horns provide a sweet cushion for the melody and the guitar solo that follows.  Tenor saxophonist Ben Kono raises the intensity with a powerful yet still melodic solo followed by Kozlov's excellent acoustic bass solo.  "Upwards" is proof that when you give excellent musicians strong material and fine arrangements, they can make music that sings, soars, caresses, and, yes, dances.  Check out The New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band – the name is quite a mouthful but the music is mighty tasty!

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Saxophones:  Matt Hong, Kristy Norter, Ben Kono, Dave Riekenberg, Eden Bareket
Trombones:  Sara Jacovino, John Yao, Sam Blakeslee, Jen Hinkle
Trumpets:  Nick Marchione, Raul Agraz, Bryan Davis, Dave Smith
Manuel Valera (piano)                                                                                                                    Vinny Valentino (guitar)  
Boris Kozlov (acoustic & electric bass)
Samuel Torres (percussion)
Joe McCarthy (drums, leader)

Here's "Caravan":

Pianist, composer, and arranger Satoko Fujii first convened the Orchestra New York in 1996. At that time, the ensemble contained 15 members including the pianist.  For 2017's stunning "Fukushima", the group was pared down to 13 and Ms. Fujii replaced her piano with the guitar of Nels Cline.  The 2020 edition welcomes back original member saxophonist Briggan Kraus and subtracts trombonist Joey Sellers (also an original member).  What is always present on the Orchestra NY's recordings is the sense of adventure, the sounds that range from quiet contemplation to roaring madness but never collapsing into total anarchy.

The ONY's 11th release, "Entity" (Libra Records), features five originals from Ms. Fujii ranging in length from 10:08 to 16:17.  The composer's style has always brought together disparate sounds composed for strengths of the individual members while achieving an often startling group sound.  Ms. Fujii's pieces often feel like short stories, conversational, off-hand, more about the sound than the rhythm.  That said, it's the chattering drums of Ches Smith that opens the album on the title song. Listen to how she paints around his solo, how the "skronky" sound of Nels Cline is the perfect accompaniment as Smith dances around the cymbals.  The brass and reeds make quick appearances over the first four minutes, pushing and shouting at the guitar and drums until Smith kicks the piece into a funky beat picking up speed.  That lasts less than a minute before the drummer and guitarist go off on another conversational jag – when their comrades come back in, the music picks up speed again and Cline goes dashing/squalling off over the roar. It all stops save for one trombone then both trombones moving around each other in slow motion.  Yet, there's more; the trumpets, guitar, bass, and drums reenter then the reeds and the music explodes again, a roaring tenor saxophone attempting to be heard over the din.

"Flashback" opens with the entire ensemble at full volume (save for Cline who roars in and out), the brass and reeds sharing the theme for the first several minutes – then, the noise stops and is replaced by quiet sounds from muted trumpet and burbling bass.  The group moves in and out of the picture, getting loud, then dropping back to two voices interacting.  On first listen, one does not know what to expect. When you return to the music, you listen for how the different elements speak to the overall direction of the music. Yet, stop trying to make sense and just let the sounds enter you. For the first two pieces, that's not an easy experience – most listeners want order, logic, when they listen. Here, you have to create that order. The emotions are certainly here, you'll find them.

Photo: Peter Gannushkin
"Gounkaiku" is the album's longest track, a splendid sonic tour-de-force with a poetic opening section, fascinating interactions, strong solos, amazing work from bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Smith, with excellent section writing and execution. Like the other tracks, the song is episodic, moving from sections to full band to quiet sounds, to noise. Cline and Takeishi's guitar/ bass guitar noises and Smith's active percussion drive the final few minutes with separate voices stepping forward from the brass and reeds.

Photo: Bryan Murray
"Entity" invites the listener to dig in, to listen as Satoko Fujii moves the different pieces of her Orchestra New York through the mazes and open fields of the music. The various voices are often heard in duo, trio, quartet, settings, then full ensemble. Solos rise over and flit under the sections or stand alone. Written material and improvisation move effortlessly together, spin apart, come together again throughout the program.  Iridescent melodies, such as the opening moments of the final track "Everlasting", collide with meanderings of different soloists, keeping the listener off-guard time and again.  Like the world we all live, this music takes the beauty of a sunrise and mixes it with the chaos of human experiences, creating a musical experience that resonates long after the sounds have evaporated.

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Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss - alto sax
Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby - tenor sax
Andy Laster - baritone sax
Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson, Dave Ballou - trumpet
Curtis Hasselbring, Joe Fiedler - trombone
Nels Cline - guitar
Stomu Takeishi - bass
Ches Smith - drums

Here's the title track:

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