Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Composer's Voices

The Jazz Composers Alliance was founded in Boston, MA, in 1985 to create a public forum for new jazz compositions. Over the course of its existence, the JCA has created a home for area-based composers such as Darrell Katz, David Harris, Ken Schaphorst, Laura Andel, and others as well as sponsoring artists-in-residence programs in the Greater Boston area. The organizations has brought artists such as Julius Hemphill, Sam Rivers, Michael Gibbs, Maria Schneider, and many more to work with composers and musicians.  To play the music, there is the JCA Orchestra composed of many of the finest musicians/ educators in the area.  Albums have been issued on Innova, Leo Records, CIMP, Cadence Jazz Records, and its own JCA Recordings.  

The JCA Orchestra's latest is "Live at the BPC" (JCA Recordings) –– recorded on October 4, 2018 at the Berklee Performance Center, the program features six original works; two by David Harris and Mimi Rabson plus one each from Bob Pilkington and Darrell Katz.  Ms. Rabson's exciting "Romanople" opens the proceedings and its an exciting blend of Turkish rhythms, semi-formal "Roman" marching band music, and the score for a war movie, not unlike Nino Rota's screen scores for Federico Fellini.  Ms. Rabson also contributed the final track, the tongue-in-cheek "Super Eyes-Private Heroes".  The music blends the bombastic approach of themes from James Bond movies with the soundtracks of television shows like "Mannix" (Lalo Schifrin), "The Rockford Files" (Mike Post), and "I Spy" (Earle Hagen).  Solos from Ms. Howell-Brooks (bari sax), Ms. Davies (violin), and Harris (trombonist) enliven the already over-the-top proceedings.  

Katz's "A Wallflower in the Amazon" (the composer is pictured left), the title track of his 2010 Accurate Record recording, is the longest (18:53) and most episodic of the pieces. Ms. Shrimpton sings the words of the late Paula Tatarunis, Katz's wife, her voice leaping and hopping through the story while saxophonists Stone, Ms. Haruvi, and Scarff intertwines lines around Sabattini's trumpet, the rocking drums and tumbling marimba lines.  After a raucous climax, Ms. Shrimpton returns to the "story" while the brass, reeds, and electric guitar groan sans rhythm (although drummer Smith joins the building fray). After another climax, the piece moves gently to its close, the lyrics serving as an epilogue. 

The other tracks include "The Sixth Snake", "The Latest", and "Yellow, Orange, Blue".  "....Snake", composed by trombonist Pilkington (pictured left) is another long (15:49) episodic piece that moves from full ensemble playing to solos (with and without accompaniment), and closes with a powerful and swinging final section –– watch and listen below.  "The Latest", composed by trombonist Harris, opens with a slinky melody line that drops into a delightful, Latin-influenced, rhythm.  The composer writes that the piece is inspired by McCoy Tyner's "Fly Like the Wind" as well as traditional Thai music.  Ms. Howell-Brooks creates a delightful bass clarinet solo and, after a break where the voice, strings, brass, and reeds move through the lengthy melody (reminiscent of the music of guitarist Pierre Dørge), guitarist Zocher steps forward producing a "hot" solo.   "Yellow..." is the second of Harris's compositions; while the rhythm is reminiscent of his other song, the solos roar out of the mix with group improvisations, splendid percussion from Smith. Ms. Stoyanova (vibraphone), and Mansour, plus excellent section writing.

"Live at The BPC" was issued in early November of last year but I am just catching up to it now.  The JCA Orchestra sounds great, the music is exciting, involving, emotionally rich, and my recommendation is to bask in the glory of this large ensemble.  

For more information, go to

As promised, "The Sixth Snake":


Tina D'Agostino: conductor
David Harris: conductor
Darrell Katz: conductor

Rebecca Shrimpton:  voice

Hiro Honshuko: flute, EWI
Rick Stone: alto saxophone
Lihi Haruvi: alto and soprano saxophones
Phil Scarff: tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet
Melanie Howell-Brooks: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet

Mike Peipman: trumpet
Dan Rosenthal: trumpet
Jerry Sabatini: trumpet
Jim Mosher: French horn
Jason Camelio: trombone
Bob Pilkington: trombone
David Harris: trombone, tuba

Strings Theory Trio:
Mimi Rabson: 5-string violin
Sherrah Davies: 5-string violin
Junko Fujiwara: cello

Maxim Lubarsky: piano
Tony "Thunder" Smith: drums
Gilbert Mansour: percussion
Vessela Stoyanova: vibraphone, marimba
Jesse Williams: bass
Norm Zocher: electric guitar

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