Thursday, March 24, 2011

David Matthews and The Manhattan Jazz Orchestra

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

As you will no doubt notice from the above photograph as well as those of him in the embedded video tribute that concludes this piece, David Matthews smiles a lot.

After hearing his music, you will understand why.

This guy is a splendid big band arranger.

One reason for this is that he took a Bachelor of Music degree in Composition from the conservatory at the University of Cincinnati. He knows what he’s doing, technically.

Another is that he has been doing this for a long time dating back to 1970-1974 when he was the arranger and band leader for James Brown Productions and subsequently from 1975-78 when he was the staff arranger for CTI Records where he wrote for Nina Simone, Hank Crawford and George Benson, among many others.

You can find a fully annotated list of David’s arranging and composing credits as well as his other accomplishments in music by visiting his website.

A third and perhaps primary reason for his marvelous big band arrangements is that he has a special gift for it – some guys just play “orchestra.”

They just know what works in writing a big band “chart” [musician speak for “arrangement”]; they know what to put where and when in the music.

They have a commanding knowledge [and often, an intuitive sense] of the range and timbre of each instrument that allows them to voice and blend them to create a variety of textures or sonorities [i.e.: the way the music “sounds”].

Talented arrangers like David keep the music interesting and exciting for both musicians and listeners alike: the former love playing on their arrangements and the latter feel good after hearing them.

You can hear David’s mastery at work in the audio track to the following video tribute to him and his big band, The Manhattan Jazz Orchestra, as he takes Dizzy Gillespie’s oft-heard Manteca and transforms it into a fresh and stimulating piece of music.

One of the devices that he employs to give the piece a new sound is that he “plays orchestra”

You may think that there are only two solos on Dave arrangement of Dizzy’s Jazz standard: Ryan Kisor’s trumpet solo at 2:36 minutes and that of Scott Robinson on baritone sax at 4:03.

But David precedes each of these solos with one of his own using the full orchestra instead of the piano to play them.

You can hear the first of his orchestral solos just after the full exposition of the Manteca’s theme – from 1:51 to 2:35 minutes.

The second can be heard following Ryan’s solo, but before Scott Robinson’s: from 3:17 to 4:02 minutes.

David closes the arrangement with a stirring “shout chorus” [short for “shout me out” or “take me out”] that begins at 4:47 minutes.

Special mention needs to be made of Walter White on lead trumpet and Chris Hunter on lead alto sax, respectively, as their prowess is an important ingredient in making David’s chart come together so well. Chip Jackson on bass and Terry Silverlight on drums really keeps things flowing with the strong pulse they generate as a rhythm section.

This is brilliant stuff.

Did I say that David Matthews was one heckuva big band arranger?

Judge for yourself.