Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ali Ryerson's Jazz Flute Big Band

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

“Ali Ryerson's Jazz Flute Big Band in Full Force on debut CD Game Changer
16-flute ensemble with guest soloists Hubert Laws, Holly Hofmann and Nestor Torres CD to be released August 20 on Capri Records”

Breathtaking has got to be one of the most overworked phrases ever used in association with the flute in Jazz.

And yet, when it comes to the Ali Ryerson Jazz Flute Big Band debut CD Game Changer [Capri Records 74124-2], “breathtaking” is literally and figuratively the only way to describe it, both in terms of its conception and execution.

Simply put, it is a magnificent recording from beginning to end, the result of a 10 year project [love affair?] spearheaded by Ali to create a big band made up entirely of flutes.

There are many things to like about this recording, but for me the first place to start leveling accolades is at the song selection.

Ali chose ten, fun tunes to play on, most of which have become Jazz standards, and took great pains to insure that they were performed in a manner suitable for the Jazz flute.

She commissioned arrangers who understand the instrument’s unique qualities to orchestrate these pieces, among them: Billy Kerr [a flutist], Mike Wofford [who is married to flutist Holly Hoffman] and pianist Bill Cunliffe [who has worked with Holly], Steve Rudolph and pianist Mark Levine [the pianist on these recordings], both of whom have previously worked with Ali, and Mike Abene, who has scored for flutes for the WDR Orchestra in Germany [which he conducts] and the Metropole Orchestra and Concertgebouw Jazz Orchestra in Holland [where he has appeared as a guest conductor].

And although it is not anywhere stated, I would imagine that Ali and the arrangers worked with the flutists in the big band in much the same way that Lex Jaspar, Rob Pronk, and Vince Mendoza had to work with The Metropole Orchestra Big Band’s string section over the years to assist them with how to phrase “in” Jazz because reading traditional, music notation is insufficient for this purpose.

Everything on this recording is executed to perfection. Dynamics are carefully employed to push and pull the various flute sections in an out of arrangements either as lead voices or as background to the soloists. Introductory segues, vamps and even shout-me-out-choruses give the arrangements both depth and breath which serves to hold the listeners attention throughout each piece.

And the band, plays like a band; jointly, as one; mutually; in concert. I can only imagine the hours of rehearsing it took to create what can only be described as the Jazz Flute Big Band’s character and substance. This is an entity that reflects pride of authorship. These musicians know that they are creating something special and they obviously worked very hard to achieve it.

There is a lot going on in these charts [arrangements]; they weren’t just thrown together. Each of the ten arrangements is carefully thought out and paced especially for flute. They are not make-overs from other instrumentations. If this had been the case, they wouldn’t work nearly as well as they do.

And what a collection of flutes: C flutes, alto flutes, bass flutes, contrabass flutes many of which are reflective of the sound attained by different manufacturers - Altus Flutes, Brio!/Gemeinhardt Flutes, Pearl Flutes, Kotato – each lending their distinctive timbre and sonority to the orchestrations.

A host of guest artists assume the solo spotlight and lend an element of individuality to the arrangements including: Paul Lieberman, Marc Adler, Hubert Laws, Jaime Baum, Nestor Torres, Holly Hoffman, Fernando Brandao and Billy Kerr; Andrea Brachfield and Kris Keith, Bob Chadwick and, of course, Ali Ryerson.

All of this is aided and abetted by a sensitive and swinging rhythmic section made up of Marl Levine on piano, Rufus Reed on bass and Akira Tana on drums. Each is the perfect rhythm section mate for a Jazz flute big band as they play under the band while keeping things moving forward. Akira gets lots of beginning and ending solo space in order to give the flutes a chance to catch their collective breath.

In his insert notes to Game Changer on Capri Records [74124-2], Peter Westbrook, Ph.D., and the author of The Flute in Jazz provides more background on the project:

“[In 2002, Ali] … established arranger friends to write for multiple flutes with rhythm section, providing her class with ensemble experience. It was an instant hit with her students. By 2005 Ali had introduced the idea to the National Flute Association (NFA), during her tenure as NFA jazz chair. And so the JFBB was bom. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength, with concert appearances, NFA competitions and commissions, reading sessions at schools and flute events, and now this recording, thanks to Tom Burns of Capri Records. Tom, a longtime advocate of jazz flute (Holly Hofmann records for Capri), met Ali in 2003, when he produced Flutology, which featured Ryerson, Hofmann and Frank Wess. Flutology became one of several multi-flute recordings that have strengthened the flute's standing in the jazz world, such as Buddy Collette's Buddy Collette and The Four Swinging Shepherds (1958), Billy Taylor's Billy Taylor and Four Flutes (1959) and Jane Bunnett's Havana Flute Summit (1997). So when Ali first proposed her JFBB project to Tom in 2009, he was immediately interested. It was only a matter of time before the recording date was set.”

And in support of Game Changer on Capri Records [74124-2], which goes on sale today, August 20, 2013, Ann Braithwaite and her fine team at Braithwaite and Katz offered the following media release which contains many interesting details about the evolution of Ali Ryerson’s Jazz Flute Big Band.

© -Braithwaite & Katz, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Ali Ryerson may be the best friend that jazz flute has today. A champion of the instrument and an indefatigable believer in the flute's rightful place in the forefront of jazz, Ryerson is a passionate performer and an educator of rare ability. Her most ambitious flute-centric project may be the Jazz Flute Big Band, bringing together a massed flute ensemble with a supportive rhythm section. The result, as heard on, the band's debut recording Game Changer (Capri Records, August 20, 2013) is as musically satisfying in execution as it is unusual in conception.

Working in tandem with sympathetic arrangers including Michael Abene, Mike Wofford and Bill Cunliffe, Ryerson directs a sixteen-flute section bolstered by such prominent stylists as Jaime Baum and Ryerson herself, as well as such celebrated guest soloists as Hubert Laws, Nestor Torres and Holly Hofmann. By taking on such cherished jazz compositions as "Stolen Moments," "Impressions," "Con Alma," "Lil' Darlin'" and "Daahoud," the JFBB proves that, in the right hands, a cadre of flutes can have the power, force and drive of a conventional horn-driven ensemble. In that respect, the album is indeed a game changer. As Peter Westbrook states in the album's notes: "...the main impression is not of a flute ensemble but a jazz ensemble."

A true labor of love, Game Changer was a long time in coming. In 2002, after years of meeting promising jazz flutists who were not receiving the attention they deserved because of the atypical instrument they focused on, Ryerson established flute master classes at Carmel Valley, California's Hidden Valley Music Seminars. The success of her endeavors led to the eventual formation of the JFBB in 2005. Four years later Ryerson spoke to Capri Records president Tom Burns about recording the band, and Game Changer finally took life over two days in October of 2012.

Throughout the album we hear how the various arrangers have brilliantly utilized the flute contingent at their service. Divided into differing tonal sections (piccolo, C flutes, altos, basses, and contrabass), the flutes interact with each other in the manner of horn sections in orthodox big bands. In some of the album's most impressive moments, massed flutes play - in breathtaking precision mated with gloriously swinging feel -- harmonized passages that sound like improvised solos. By meshing the flute sections in such harmonious fashion, the various soloists shine all the more.

As obviously crucial as the featured flutes are to the project, the importance of the rhythm section - pianist Mark Levine, bassist Rufus Reid and the drummer Akira Tana - can't be overstated. Featured roles are assigned to each man; compact, powerful solos from each offer effective contrast, while the trio's spirited interaction with the flutes provides buoyant support.

Overall, Game Changer proudly presents itself as a vibrant affirmation of the flute's individual potential and its burgeoning role in large jazz ensembles. Ali Ryerson's Jazz Flute Big Band is both a successful experiment and an indispensable blueprint for jazz's future.”

Order information is available at www.caprirecords.com/ or at www.aliryerson.com/.

You can listen to Mike Wofford’s arrangement of Tom Harrell’s Sail Away featuring Ali’s solo from Game Changer as it forms the soundtrack to the following video.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this wonderful piece. (Marian was born in 1918) her family


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