Tuesday, April 19, 2016


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

On A TRIBUTE TO HERBIE+1 which was released on February 5, 2016 on Summit/MAMA Records - [MAA-1049] - one of the most distinguished saxophonists in the world of big band, Dick Oatts, teams with mastermind co-leader Mats Holmquist and his stunning arrangements of some of Herbie's most intriguing and subsequently most famous tunes from the '60s and 70s. Throw in some of the best musicians New York has to offer, and the result is one powerful recording!

If you are not familiar with the Minimalist approach to Jazz orchestration, Mats’ arrangements employ them to create a dazzling array of new sonorities and textures.

If you are a fan of Big Band Jazz, you don’t want to miss this one.  In its originality, I doubt that you’ve ever heard anything like it.

As to the musicianship on display throughout - fugetaboutit! The nine stunning tracks on this recording went down with less that one day’s rehearsal!!

Here’s what Mats Holmquist has to say in his insert notes to the recently issued recording:


“When I first heard the classic album by the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, featuring the arrangements of Brokmeyer from 1980, I was filled with the deepest respect and admiration for the musicianship of saxophonist Dick Oatts. His performances on Skylark and Ding Dong Ding are truly memorable classics. In my opinion Dick Oatts is by far the most distinguished lead, and solo saxophonist in the big band world. As a lead player and artistic director of the Vanguard Orchestra he has amassed an amazing experience of the finest possible big band music and musicians.

To work with Dick as a co-bandleader of an ensemble with some of the greatest big band musicians in New York, would of course be every big band composer/arranger's dream. When we started planning this project Dick and John Mosca started thinking about which musicians from "the city" would be the best choice for this specific project. They came up with this excellent group of people. Together we decided to also add some of the most distinguished musicians of Scandinavia, since that is my origin. Our decision fell on tenorist Robert Nordmark from Sweden, trumpeter Frank Brodahl from Norway and trombonist Steen Nikolaj Hansen from Denmark.

The music on this album consists of my interpretations of some of Herbie Hancock's most famous compositions from the '60s and '70s plus my own original "Stevie R.". The starting point is the minimalist compositional techniques I have developed for big band since around 2005.

Cantaloupe Island is in itself a minimalist composition with very little melodic material. My treatment of it, using minimalist techniques, creates, in my opinion, an almost comic character. There are two short shout choruses and the mood/character is perhaps lighter than Herbie's original recording. There are two truly inspired solos by Adam Birnbaum, piano and Mark Gross, alto, which both, at some point, moves into double tempo swing to create contrast.

In Chameleon I use a technique inspired by Steve Reich famous composition "Drumming" starting with one note, adding one more, and another one, etc, until the thread of notes becomes a whole musical phrase. When the theme first appears it is re-composed and re-harmonized as well as set in in a 5/4 meter. After while I switch to 4/4 and traditional harmonies. Two great tenor solos by Walt Weiskopf and Robert Nordmark are followed by a shout chorus that is actually a 16 bar Canon between brass and reeds. Paul Meyer's guitar appears and sets a different mood. The figures from the beginning appears again as solo backgrounds to Paul's inventive solo and a gradually more and more chaotic feeling a' la Beatles "Hey Jude," brings it to the end.

Dolphin Dance is one of my favorite compositions by Herbie Hancock. The chord progression is a stroke of genius and the mellow character is very attractive as well as the original form of the piece. My approach to the piece was to stay close to the original as far as harmonies, form and groove (swing), but still use many typically minimalist techniques in the horns. This concept applies for most of the pieces on this album. Apart from the theme and solo backgrounds, I only added a sax soli where Dick and the sax section did an excellent job at maintaining a cool mood in the fast moving lines. I truly admire the solos by both soloists in this piece (Birnbaum and Oatts).

Eye of the Hurricane is the only up-tempo composition on the album. There are, in my view, three features in this piece; the prolonged intro and outro, the solo backgrounds, thoroughly based in the theme, and the virtuoso sax soli. There are four wonderful solos by Joe Magnarelli, trumpet, Walt Weiskopf, tenor, Dick Oatts, alto and John Riley on the drums. Herbie wrote some really interesting chords in this composition that lends themselves well to the minimalist approach.

Stevie R. is the only original of mine on the CD and the reason for part of the title, +1. I composed the cartoon-like theme in my head in a sauna and developed the piece into an almost pop music-like song with a simple chord progression that I probably thought I would never use. It features lyrical trumpet, and piano solos, excellently executed by John Magnarelli and Adam Birnbaum. To be able to maintain a minimalist concept I used quite a number of modulations and solo backgrounds that play an important role. The outro features an almost pathetic finale a' la Pop or "European Schlager Music."

Maiden Voyage is, just like Cantaloupe Island, very minimalist in its character. Apart from Stevie R. this is perhaps the most minimalist piece on the album. I tried to develop the small amount of material to a great extent and use more notes than most of the other pieces. Once again we enjoy solos by Joe Magnarelli on the trumpet and Dick Oatts on Soprano. The outro has a sort of a Beatles' "Hey Jude" feeling to it (once again), where we added some sound effects to enhance this particular feeling.

Jessica is the the only ballad in this selection. The theme is quite short and my idea was to treat it as a Passacaglia or similar, although it's not the bassline that is the key feature here, but rather the theme. Anyhow, it became a little bit influenced by classical baroque music and the great J.S. Bach, with extensive imitative material. I repeat the theme six times in the the beginning in contrary to the mainstream jazz tradition of two times. So, if you didn't know the theme before, you do now.

Watermelon Man starts off with one of the most unusual grooves I have ever created, with kind of an almost "silly"/playful character, initially without the rhythm section. Two great solos (Walt Weiskopf, tenor and Frank Basile, baritone) frame a kind of unusual rhythm section soli with our fantastic drummer John Riley "in the lead", containing plenty of very virtuoso material. Hats off for the rhythm section! There are two short shout choruses, the first one clearly minimalistic and the second to some extent "polytonal". Close to the end I use a technique where the brass play the theme just one eighth-note ahead of the saxes to create a kind of shadow-effect. This effect is used briefly also in Jessica. A sudden ending with the piano in the lead brings it to a close.

Toys is a truly unique and original piece. The harmonies are far from traditional and contain many time only three basic notes. Here I partly use a technique where I assign each horn section (sax, trumpet, trombone) one note each, which creates some unusual sounds, in a big band context. Combining these three notes in different inversions gives more mathematical and sound options than one might at first envision. I also use several rhythmical "tricks" to vary the quite limited melodic material. Once again there are two tenor solos (Weiskopf & Nordmark) very much aligned with the feeling of the piece, and some drums at the end.

I'm thankful to be given the opportunity to work such great musicians. It would have been hard to realize this project if all involved hadn't been musicians at such a stratospheric level. We only had a half day of rehearsals and a couple hours more in the studio (less than a full day) and the recordings are all first takes except one!

Thanks to: Dick Oatts, John Mosca, P.O. Svennerholm whose support helped make this project possible, Goran and Claes Olson for longtime support, Willem Sleeker - my engineer, Per-Olof Hognelid, my kids Jonathan (who was with me in N.Y.), Felix, Stella and my father Yngve, Darby at Summit Records, Rob and all the people at Water Music Studios, all my friends in Stockholm, Shanghai, N.Y. and elsewhere, and of course last but not least THE BAND!

- Mats Holmquist

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