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My Favorite Big Band Recordings

I’m a big band jazz connoisseur. I love playing the music, and I love checking out others. Here follows those I believe are of the highest musical level and well-worth giving attention to, updated as I see fit:

bill holman: a view from the side
The Bill Holman Band: Brilliant Corners
Bob Curnow’s L.A. Big Band: The Music Of Pat Metheny And Lyle Mays
The Bob Florence Limited Edition: With All The Bells And Whistles
The Count Basie Orchestra Live At El Morocco
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society: Infernal Machines
Frank Sinatra: Sinatra At The Sands
iTiempo Latino! – The Airmen Of Note
Maria Schneider Orchestra: The Thompson Fields
Ray Charles + Count Basie Orchestra: Ray Sings Basie Swings
Stan Kenton: Contemporary Concepts
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: Up From The Skies

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Music Review: Ben Johnston String Quartets Nos. 6, 7, & 8

Do we always know when, exposed to something that will influence us for the rest of our lives, we are in transformation?

I did not realize such when I first played some David Berger Ellington transcriptions back in college, although I did enjoy them very much. I did realize such the first time I heard a recording of Terry Riley’s The Harp Of New Albion. In either case, I could never predict how I would grow in relationship to that music. I am in such a state of realization now regarding this last recording of Ben Johnston’s string quartets by the Kepler Quartet, completing this set of recordings.

I have the other two Kepler Quartet recordings as well; I am the proud owner of the complete set, and this last one came with the small scrawl of the composer’s signature on the inside cover. Due credit must be given not just to Johnston but to Karl Lavine, Sharan Leventhal, Brek Renzelman, and Eric Swegnitz, the musicians in the Quartet, and the rest of the production team for realizing this recording. Due credit, because, in particular, string quartets nos. 6 and 7 are, to put it mildly, a bit of work. Have yourself a laugh and check out The Mount Everest of String Quartets.

I’ve listened to this album many times since I bought it earlier this year, and it’s definitely my favorite of the year so far. I may have listened to this album more than any other I ever have. Under such a lens, what can I say about the music itself? I can’t, except that I have an inkling the String Quartet No. 7 may be one of the finest compositions of the 20th century, and this one of the finest recordings of the 21st . . . but such statements are for people en masse to figure out, and this album hasn’t had time to percolate into the public consciousness yet. It certainly is one of my favorite compositions of the 20th century and one of my favorite recordings of the 21st, and I think that I will grow in those opinions as I grow with the music. If you readers hear this music, you may disagree and not understand what I cannot say about the music, or you may agree and then you definitely will understand.

I think the latter more likely.

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Another bootleg: NJO on 11 May 2010

I found more files in the digital heap, and separated this live concert into tracks. I remember this concert; it was in a grade school gymnasium in Luxembourg and as you can hear, those kids were fantastic. Probably one of the best, most energetic audiences I’ve ever played for.

Bang Spot

Exposition 1: Good afternoon boys and girls

Four Brothers

Exposition 2: What are solos

Over There

Exposition 3: When Gavin didn’t have grey hair

Sister Moon

Kids Chatting

Dewdrops On Leaves

Exposition 4: Olivier being French

Mack The Knife

Exposition 5: Kerry introcudes Mr. Truffles

C Jam Blues (Head Chart)

Exposition 6: Gavin introduces the old man

That Old Black Magic

Exposition 7: Pedro introduces everyone and closing comments

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NJO Bootleg: The Grinning King

Every once in a while, it can be pretty fun to indulge in a bit of nostalgia and look through some of my old files . . . and look what popped up:

This is a live recording from my SHAPE International Band days of a NATO Jazz Orchestra concert, featuring yours truly on trombone solo. I don’t remember where or when it was. This recording, being live, and sounding like a feed off a sound board, is of course chock full of warts, made worse by the sound engineer obviously using our first tune to set sound levels (you can hear him adjusting as the tune progresses) . . . but we had a pretty darn good band, and in my humble opinion the composition turned out pretty well. This was originally written for Jim Finlayson, a trombonist and friend I knew before I joined the military back in the 2000s.

 

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Upcoming (some day!) Intonation Exercises: Four Part Chorales In Just Intonation book by yours truly

I’ve had the opportunity to work on this little pet project of mine lately, and I think it would be nice to put up a “teaser” showing a glimpse of the materials to be contained within:

Intonation Exercises Preview

The idea is to help train proper intonation by precisely notating every deviation in pitch through the course of these chorales, and breaking things down to easily digestible building blocks of these intonation tools. Note that this is just a couple of pages picked from different sections of the book; I hope that some of you find these useful enough to generate interest in the (not yet) finished product. The first chorale in this excerpt is very straight-forward; the second is obviously more advanced. The chorales in this book will consist of exercises like these, and of arrangements of traditional and original songs which reinforce the exercises. I also want them to eventually cover advanced harmony through complex jazz chords and beyond, dealing with harmonies based on higher harmonics. I’ll probably release it as a couple of volumes.

For more information on Sagittal notation, see:

Sagittal microtonal notation

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Sam Most: New Jazz Standards

Last week, I taught at the Great Basin Jazz Camp and our trumpet guru Carl Saunders brought in this newly released album featuring the recently deceased jazz flutist Sam Most that he helped to produce. Carl’s a great writer, and the album is nothing but his tunes. We faculty sat around one night after data-dumping jazz into kids all day and listened to it front to back, and not just I, but Carl (who had already listened to it many, many, many times), Scott Whitfield, and the rest of the faculty (minus two who had gigs in Boise) were entranced. Sam has bebop chops, and had a unique ability to play clear, recognizable, and unique melodies through virtually any kind of harmonic progression.

Carl observed that part of his standard recording technique in solos is to stop once he hits a clam and backtrack to his last breath, and re-record, and play the lick again. He has a fantastic musical memory which is evident in his playing. He said that when he was recording Sam, Sam was playing fantastic lick after fantastic lick, and would occasionally hit a clam, and the first time Carl stopped recording to go back and fix it, Sam replied something like “I’m not used to doing it that way.” But, back he went, and unlike Carl, never played the same thing twice yet maintained a constant stream of well-crafted original lines. Scott, no stranger to playing well-constructed lines, summed up the end result thus: “Jesus!”

I gotta agree. Sam performed one of the best jazz quartet albums I’ve heard in years, and it being his last makes it more special. Carl and Sam were good friends for years.

Oh, and the scat solo is [awesome overflow error].

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Articles on New World Brass website

I have written some articles for New World Brass, based on some of what I’ve included on my blog here. New World Brass is a young but ambitious website resource for brass musicians. Check it out here:

New World Brass

and my first article published there:

Introduction to Intonation