Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lifeline - Bill Kirchner Nonet

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

It is always a pleasant event to have more of Bill Kirchner’s music available in whatever the context, but I must admit to being especially partial to Bill’s playing and composing and writing skills when they are on display in his nonet.

In addition to Bill’s soprano saxophone, the Nonet's lineup is: Dick Oatts, Ralph Lalama, and Kenny Berger, reeds;  Bud Burridge and Andy Gravish, trumpets and flugelhorns;  Douglas Purviance, bass trombone;  Carlton Holmes, piano;  Chip Jackson, bass;  Ron Vincent, drums.

Founded in New York City in 1980, the Bill Kirchner Nonet has been one of present-day Jazz's most unique bands, featuring innovative writing along with top-notch solos and ensemble playing.  

If you haven’t had the opportunity to listen to Bill’s Nonet, you might want to checkout Lifeline, a new CD that shows off the group in an exhilarating performance during a 2001 concert at the New School in New York City.

Jazz has a rich history of groups that are bigger than the 4-6 piece standard Jazz combo but smaller than full size big bands which today can included 4 or 5 trumpets, four trombones and five saxophones. The former affords flexibility and fleetness, the latter, power and solidity.

Bill Kirchner’s genius is that he is able compose and arrange the nonet in such a way so as to bring to bear the benefits and qualities of both the smaller and the larger ensembles, thereby creating a whole new texture of the sound of Jazz played by midsize groups.

This sort of blending of opposites through the use of 8, 9 or 10 piece groups has been done before, most notably by Gil Evans and Miles Davis with their 1949 Birth of the Cool recordings and shortly thereafter by Shorty Rogers, Gerry Mulligan and Jimmy Giuffre, among others, in their creation of the the West Coast Style of Jazz that predominated in California in the 1950s. Their focus was transitioning the sound of Swing Era big bands of the 1930s and sophisticated harmonies of the early 1940s bebop groups into an integrated mid-size sound.

Bill Kirchner is bridging a different gap: he is taking the modern Jazz that followed - the Hard Bop of the 1950s, the influence of Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band, the Thad Jones Mel Lewis Orchestra, Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau, the dynamic Woody Herman Orchestras of the 1960s and 1970s, Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider’s work with the New Art Orchestra - and composing and arranging these influences into a mid-size Jazz group that takes on a whole new sonority.

Bill’s is not formulaic or cookie-cutter music. It holds together well after repeated listenings because it is constructed by a skilled and well-trained musician who is steeped in the Jazz tradition. Of course, just to put my bias once again on display, Bill also went out and built the entire framework for the nonet around one heckuva, swinging rhythm section in Chip Jackson on bass and Ron Vincent on drums.

There is no one more masterful in Jazz today who is working in this medium. Like every dedicated Jazz artist who strives to find his own voice, Bill has worked hard to find his in the form of - The Bill Kirchner Nonet.

Bill wrote the following liner notes for Lifeline after which you’ll find order information for the CD.
“This is the fifth recording of my Nonet to be released since 1982.  And in several ways it’s the most personal for me.
The occasion for this live recording was a 2001 concert at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, where I’ve taught since 1991.  You’ll hear from the vigorous applause that the audience was hip and enthusiastic, so the band had plenty of incentive to play at its best.
Though truth be told, players of this caliber don’t need any additional incentive to deliver the goods.  When you get musicians like this on a stage together, creative sparks are virtually guaranteed.  Plus, all of them had been associated with the Nonet for 9-21 years and knew the music well.
We began the evening with “Fancy Dance,” a great tune by pianist Joe Sample that was recorded in 1968 by the Jazz Crusaders.  The rhythm section kicks into high gear immediately with a virtuosic solo by Chip Jackson, who is one of the undersung giants of the bass in present-day jazz.  Bud Burridge on flugelhorn, Kenny Berger on baritone saxophone, and Dick Oatts on soprano saxophone all sustain the energy as the rhythm section spurs them on.
“Brother Brown” was the late Washington, D.C. pianist Reuben Brown.  I first heard this piece, written by bassist Marshall Hawkins (an alumnus of the 1968 Miles Davis Quintet and the Shirley Horn Trio), when I lived in D.C. in the late 1970s.   It’s got a bright Brazilian groove and challenging chord changes to improvise on.  Trumpeter Andy Gravish, tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama, and drummer Ron Vincent sail through it all.
Saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter is one of my biggest heroes (more about him shortly), and following in his tradition of female portraits (“Iris,” “Delores,” “Diana,” “Miyako,” “Ana Maria,” “Penelope,” “Vonetta,” “Iska,” “Nefertiti,” several others), there are three original compositions of mine in this concert dedicated to special women.  “Lullaby” is the first of them. I wrote it for the Nonet early in 1984 (in the middle of the night, actually), and though this is the first time it’s been released on a recording, my online discography lists seventeen performances of it ( The lady of the moment is a fine musician, and her image graces the cover of the Nonet’s second album, Infant Eyes. Pianist Carlton Holmes’s solo is truly incandescent. For Roxanne.
“Dream Dancing” is a Cole Porter song from a 1941 film called You’ll Never Get Rich, with Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth.  Alas, it was used in the film only as an instrumental.  Bud Burridge and Douglas Purviance gently unveil the melody on flugelhorn and bass trombone, respectively, and Andy Gravish follows them, soloing lyrically and fluidly on Harmon-muted trumpet.  Then Dick Oatts weaves a wondrous tapestry on alto saxophone, and Carlton Holmes, not to be outdone, winds up this track’s three brilliant improvisations.  The last chorus has some surprises.
The aforementioned Wayne Shorter recorded his classic ballad “Infant Eyes” in 1964 on one of his greatest albums, Speak No Evil.  This is the Nonet’s third recording of my arrangement.  The first featured Glenn Wilson on baritone saxophone, the second spotlighted Michael Rabinowitz on bassoon, and this one showcases Kenny Berger on bass clarinet.  All different interpretations, and all unique.  Kenny plays the s--- out of that difficult instrument.
Pianist Andy LaVerne’s “Maximum Density” is a challenging contemporary jazz composition that has built-in rhythms and unconventional harmonies that have to be met head-on.  The fiery Ralph Lalama and the equally incendiary rhythm section do just that, and the rest of the band helps them to build the intensity to a boiling climax.
I said that this is the most personal of the Nonet albums, and Lifeline Suite is a major reason for that.  “Holding Patterns,” the opening piece, consists of three contrapuntal lines for the horns—trumpet and soprano saxophone, flugelhorn and tenor saxophone, bass trombone and bass clarinet.  (I wrote it in 1990 for the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop Orchestra, but it works equally well with smaller ensembles.) The rhythm section has no written music, but is merely instructed to “listen and respond.”  (In particular, check out Ron Vincent’s inventive percussion and Chip Jackson’s arco (bowed) bass—“ear playing” at its finest.) It’s one of the most unusual pieces I’ve ever written, and it sounds remarkably different every time.
The second movement, “Try To Understand,” is also the second female dedication.  I wrote it in 1992 and arranged it for the Nonet especially for this concert nine years later.  (In between, it received a poignant set of lyrics from bassist/songwriter Jay Leonhart.)  When I recorded it in 2004 with a small group, it was sung by the consummate vocalist Jackie Cain (of Jackie and Roy), who said that it was the hardest music she had sung in over a half-century of recording.  Jackie nonetheless nailed it, as does the band here.  The arrangement is built largely around the alto flutes of Dick Oatts and Ralph Lalama, and Carlton Holmes is a paragon of lyricism.  For “Cinderella.”
The third and final movement—and the third female portrait--is “For Judy,” dedicated to my dear wife of (at this writing) almost two decades.  Anything I’ve accomplished during that time period she’s had a major role in making possible.  And overall, in making my life way better.  Dick Oatts begins softly and constructs an alto saxophone solo that soaringly evokes the dedicatee.
Ending the evening is “Quiet Now,” a gorgeous ballad by pianist/composer (and psychiatrist) Denny Zeitlin.  Denny has been one of my heroes since I was a teenager and has become a close friend as well.  I orchestrated this from his own written-out piano voicings.  It’s scored for two flugelhorns, two clarinets, bass clarinet, bass trombone (with a bucket mute), and the rhythm section.
This concert took place only two months after September 11, 2001.  It was dedicated to those who lost their lives that day, and also to composer/arranger Manny Albam, who had died of cancer on October 2, 2001.
In order to fit the music onto a single CD, two selections had to be omitted.  One was “So Many Stars,” a Sergio Mendes opus featuring bass trombonist Douglas Purviance, one of the Nonet’s charter members.  (Fortunately, it appears on two of our previous recordings.)  The other was a quartet version of “Body and Soul” with the rhythm section plus myself on soprano saxophone.
In 1993, a life-threatening illness and resulting surgeries left me unable to play all of my nine instruments except for the soprano.  This was a blessing in disguise for three reasons: 1) it enabled me to focus on the soprano, always my favorite; 2) it gave me a reason to hire Dick Oatts; and 3) it allowed me to conduct in front of the band and have the best seat in the house.
So no one had more fun that night than I did.  I hope that this recording gives you a sense of what that evening was about — a substantial portion of the music and people most important to me.”
                                                                                                                                            --Bill Kirchner
                                                                                                                                             January 2014   

PO Box 0523, Planetarium Station, New York, NY 10024-0523
New release – Street Date – March 1, 2014
Artist: Bill Kirchner Nonet
Title: Lifeline
Label: Jazzheads
Catalog Number:JH1208
UPC 809819120820

This recording is available ONLY as a digital release.  The music, cover art, credits, and liner notes are available as a download.

To purchase "Lifeline," click on this link:

NOTE:  The CD is also available on iTunes and

Dear Friends:

Since the release this month of my Nonet's CD "Lifeline," the response has been extremely gratifying.

1) From Steve Cerra, "Jazz Profiles":
"There is no one more masterful in Jazz today who is working in this medium. Like every dedicated Jazz artist who strives to find his own voice, Bill has worked hard to find his in the form of - The Bill Kirchner Nonet."

2)  From Michael Gibbs, composer/arranger:
"....fabulous music!  Great 'orchestral' orchestration --- and with a nonet!!  [A] dynamite achievement...."

3)  From Marc Myers, "JazzWax":
"Bill's arranging style is just as multilayered and brooding as [Gil] Evans' charts and as shrewd and mighty as [Thad] Jones'. Songs latch onto a mood and develop with sharp elegance and intelligence, telling a story and building to a point."

4)  From Doug Ramsey, "Rifftides":
"....excitement, expansiveness and an impressive range of tonal colors. His adventurous three-part 'Lifeline Suite' is an important contribution to the literature of mid-sized bands."

Read more:

The Nonet's lineup is:  Dick Oatts, Ralph Lalama, and Kenny Berger, reeds;  Bud Burridge and Andy Gravish, trumpets and flugelhorns;  Douglas Purviance, bass trombone;  Carlton Holmes, piano;  Chip Jackson, bass;  Ron Vincent, drums;  and myself, composer-arranger and conductor.

This recording is available ONLY as a digital release.  The music, cover art, credits, and liner notes are available as a download.

To purchase "Lifeline," click on this link:

NOTE:  The CD is also available on iTunes and

Bill Kirchner

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.