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Read the latest edition of Hot House Magazine! View and download here in Acrobat: February 2015
Winning Spins By George Kanzler
Leaders of larger units in jazz today can find inspiration in a vast swath of history, to tap traditions or to plant footsteps on a forward journey expanding the parameters of the assemblage of musicians known as the big band/large ensemble. Our Winning Spins this month look both forward and back in their creation of new ensemble jazz.
The big band tradition encapsulated in the Swing Era is the template for the George Gee Swing Orchestra, a decades-long staple of the Manhattan neo-swing dance scene and expanded on in the band’s latest album. Orchestral jazz, as developed by the likes of Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer and the Third Stream movement of the mid-20th Century, provides inspiration and points in new directions for Rufus Reid’s large ensemble recording of a suite inspired by and celebrating the works of African-American sculptor Elizabeth Catlett.
Hendrix has two commendably assertive solos on Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project, Rufus Reid (Motéma), a tribute to both the young trumpeter’s versatility and the continuum that is jazz in the 21st Century. Rufus Reid’s Large Ensemble (20 members) is a far cry from a swing band, although there are sections of Quiet Pride that indubitably swing hard. Reid has expanded a standard contemporary big band, adding not only guitar (electric and acoustic), but also a pair of French horns and a voice (Charenee Wade), who functions like another instrument: singing notes, not words.
Reid says he deeply contemplated the sculptures (pictured on the CD booklet) that inspired the five suites on the album, and that he found himself responding to the shapes and lines in Catlett’s work. “While there is no absolute correspondence, I do feel that she inspired me to mix my own shapes and lines,” Reid says. Inventive and expansive, the pieces Reid has created with his handpicked Large Ensemble are an artistic expansion of the work Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn were doing with their large-scale suites.
Reid employs a full panoply of tonal and timbral colors and tones, including the incorporation of the voice into the total palette, even having Wade sing into the piano to create a reverberant effect on “Singing Head.” That same piece drops from full ensemble to a drums/tenor sax duet before returning to the ensemble, while “Tapestry in the Sky” creates a grand procession by building from a trumpet and piano duet through a series of solos that accumulate burgeoning accompaniment and weight toward a full-bodied orchestral climax.
The Big Band Sound of Rufus Reid comes to Jazz Standard Feb. 26 through March 1.
Alan Broadbent: Making the Piano Sing, By Eugene Holley Jr.
“I don’t play the piano as a percussive instrument,” says the Grammy Award-winning Alan Broadbent from his home in New York. “It’s a singing instrument. It’s a horn.”
Born in 1947 in Auckland, New Zealand, Broadbent’s interaction with the jazz idiom in that far-flung island nation required an intense desire to learn the music without the benefit of a large, homegrown jazz scene.
“I heard the Dave Brubeck Quartet when I was 14 years old. And I knew I had to find out how to play this music. There were older musicians in Auckland that got hold of me in a good way and taught me how to swing.”
Ever since he burst upon the scene as a member of Charlie Haden’s Quartet West in the late 1980s, Broadbent’s lyrical lines have sonically signatured the music of an impressive potpourri of musicians from Haden, Woody Herman, Irene Kral, and Diana Krall, to Natalie Cole, Lee Konitz and Sheila Jordan. An imposing artist in his own right, Broadbent has released more than two dozen recordings as a leader, most in the trio format.
His latest two CDs are a welcome departure. Just One Of Those Things (Editionlongplay.com) is a hip and haunting solo piano, limited-edition LP featuring Broadbent’s timeless takes on several jazz and pop standards including John Lewis’ “Django,” Elvis Costello’s “The Birds Will Be Singing,” and Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way.” America The Beautiful (Jan Matthies Records) showcases Broadbent with the German NDR Big Band performing Broadbent’s original compositions, including “Sonata For Swee’ Pea,” a heartfelt tribute to Billy Strayhorn, and the Gil Evanesque “Covenant.”
Both records display Broadbent’s sumptuous, singable pianism. “What I get from Bill Evans is the beauty of harmony,” he says. “I didn’t know you could do that with jazz piano. And Bud Powell is my ideal. But my melodies come from horn players. I studied with Lennie Tristano when I was at Berklee. Lenny had me singing Lester Young solos. And that opened up a whole new world for me.”
As wonderful as his piano playing is, Broadbent’s talents as an arranger are just as impressive, as evidenced by his work on Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable CD. His setting of “When I Fall in Love,” earned him a Grammy for Best Orchestral Arrangement Accompanying a Vocal in 1996. His orchestration of Leonard Bernstein’s “Lonely Town,” written for Shirley Horn on Charlie Haden’s CD, The Art of the Song, earned him his second Grammy in 2000.
“I can’t write anything, if I can’t add my two cents,” he says. “I have to find people that would let me write a lovely counterpoint to a line … I have to have some interaction with the performer.”
Broadbent’s earliest arrangements weren’t as subtle. He began his career as an arranger with Herman’s big band where he wrote some ground-breaking charts melding rock ‘n’ roll into the big band sound. “It was Blood, Sweat and Tears meets Woody Herman,” Broadbent said, adding that he never studied arranging. “I was just flying by the seat of my pants.”
After leaving the road in 1972 and settling in Los Angeles, he had an epiphany driving to a session for Nelson Riddle. Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 was on the radio and he pulled to the side of the road to listen. “Immediately, it was the music that I wished all my life I could write. He was the same age as I was, 28, and he wrote it 100 years before. But he was expressing all my feelings,” he recalled, still a little awed. “I spent the next 20 years studying note by note every symphony. That’s how I learned to write for an orchestra. I couldn’t afford lessons at the time but I could afford a $5 Mahler symphony score.”
Alan Broadbent performs at Mezzrow, Feb. 20-22.
ANOTHER REASON TO CELEBRATE BY ELZY KOLB
In the tradition
In the early 1970s, jazz was in a bit of a slump, with smooth jazz and fusion elbowing aside and marginalizing straight-ahead and traditional jazz styles. That didn’t stop Jack Kleinsinger from producing his first Highlights in Jazz concert and more than four decades later the series is still thriving.
“You have to give Jack credit for keeping this going,” says bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott. “It’s a labor of love, done for the love of the music and it shows.”
Parrott will reunite with her longtime collaborators, pianist Gordon Webster, reed maven Dan Levinson and trumpeter Bria Skonberg, at the Highlights in Jazz 42nd Anniversary Gala at Tribeca Performing Arts Center Feb. 19, to celebrate New York’s longest-running jazz concert series.
The foursome recorded together a few years back and they’ll revisit some of the music from the CD. “It will be a nice reunion. There will be a mixture of some traditional jazz, some things from the classic jazz repertoire and some new arrangements.” Parrott enjoys the challenge of addressing familiar tunes in a new way. “I try to find my own way to make it fresh for me. I might try a new bass line, a new intro or a different tempo to breathe new life into an old favorite. I try to think, ‘Does it make sense for me to do this?’ Some things just play themselves and others need an update.”
Parrott is thrilled to be sharing the bill with vocalist Catherine Russell. “She’s one of my favorite singers. She does everything well, from Steely Dan to her own thing. Her song choices are so natural and easy, and she has a great sense of swing.”
This year, the bassist will celebrate another great musical tradition, with a series of events she’s organizing to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of guitar icon Les Paul. Parrott was in Paul’s band for a decade; she will focus on his music at brunch at the Falcon in Marlboro NY, Feb. 1, when she appears with guitarists Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo.
NEW JERSEY JAZZ BY GARY WALKER
BILL WARFIELD INTERNATIONAL SEPTET
DEER HEAD INN / FEBRUARY 27
Trumpeter Bill Warfield has many musical homes from work playing with Ornette Coleman, The American Jazz Orchestra, Mel Lewis, Eddie Palmieri, The Yellowjackets, Sonny Stitt and Lester Bowie. Warfield has performed commissioned pieces for the Spanish government and big band works for the Berlin Radio Orchestra. Warfield’s latest recording, Trumpet Story (Planet Arts) is a strong testament to his writing and arranging. Warfield’s International Septet features tenor saxophonist Glen Cashman, bassist Steve Count and drummer Scott Neuman, all from the U.S., alto saxist “Chappe” Jensen from Denmark and guitarist Libor Smoldas and pianist Jacob Zomer from the Czech Republic. Audiences are treated to funk, high-powered contemporary and Latin jazz, while embracing the varied backgrounds of the band’s members.