Monday, May 27, 2013

Los Angeles Jazz Institute, Day Four, 5.26.2013 - “Swingin’ On A Riff: Big Band Masters of the 21st Century.”

© -Gordon Sapsed, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The last Day of the current event opened with an hour-long film show, starting at 8.30, tracking the emergence of West Coast Jazz on film, with some rare clips. Ken Poston traced the music from Lester Young, Claude Thornhill, Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan  with clips that also included Shorty Rogers, Marty Paich and others.

It was then time for the 'extra added attraction' - a new-style LAJI fundraiser event, lasting 3 & 3/4 hours, within the main event, offering brunch with the music (or not, if preferred) - "The Birth of the Cool and The Origins Of the West Coast Sound".

Composer/Arranger/ Bandleader Chris Walden then directed a 17-piece band re-creating Claude Thornhill's music complete with French horns and tuba and arrangements from Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan, among others. As Chris said "This music could have been written 10 or 20 years ago, but dates from the 1940's ...

Charts played included Yardbird Suite, Anthropology, Donna Lee and Godchild as well as Thornhill icons such as Snowfall, Robbin's Nest and Rose of the Rio Grande

Hearing this music live was a different experience from the surviving recordings - one enthusiast told me that he felt "It did not feel as light as I normally expect to hear it". I thought that the clarity distinguishing individual instruments seemed notable, although , as ever for my taste, the LAJI sound mixing was generally too loud.

Chuck Findley was next up leading a 'Miles Davis' Nonet through the Birth of the Cool charts. Again the tuba ( Bill Reichenbach) and French horn (Stephanie O'Keefe) parts were notable - this time being full members of the band , with solo space. Matt Harris, from California State Northridge had been brought in to add his familiarity with this music - in the John Lewis piano role in this set and as director for the following set. Ira Nepus on trombone and Chuck Berghofer on bass were among those brought in just for this Nonet set.

'Miles Ahead - the classic Miles Davis plus 19 collaboration with Bill Evans' was the third event for this special morning and featured Bobby Shew in the Miles Davis role.
The originally - released album was a mix of spliced sections, over-dubbing and reworking, none of which was available for this live performance. However, the result was outstandingly good as has been almost everything during this four days. The caliber of musicianship has delighted even the musicians themselves  and congratulations between musicians and from their leaders has been frequent and well-deserved.

A characteristic of the weekend has been the emergence of a new generation of LA musicians  - some familiar, some less so, but playing with phenomenal technique and, I thought, more personal involvement than might have been the case is earlier times. 

Another observation for me was that, in earlier times, if I saw a new young face, I mentally 'wished him luck' when he was perhaps exposed by a solo opportunity.
This time round I found myself being relieved when a veteran musician pulled something off in the very challenging company of talented younger players and attracted nods or gasps from the youngsters!

The set-list for the Miles Ahead set was, essentially the album titles.

The hour long Composers Workshop, moderated by KJAZ's Helen Borgers, had Kim Richmond and Chris Walden participating, but lacked Bob Curnow who could not make the trip due to health issues.

The Workshop, I thought, was less interesting than the earlier ones, being bogged down in the perennial debate about the death of big band music ( strenuously denied) and audiences for Big Band music (less strenuously denied). There were some good words said about the overall impact of the work of Gordon Goodwin with younger people and its impact on the whole big band appreciation scene. Kim Richmond made some good points about the different skills evident among younger players and his own experience in dissolving and re-creating his own band.

Kim's 23-piece  Concert Jazz Orchestra then gave an hour plus concert, with much of the material drawn from his newly-released tribute to Stan Kenton "Artistry". This music really had the audience on their feet and cheering long before the end. It is billed as 'orchestral jazz' and Kim acknowledges the inspiration of the Kenton Neophonic as a source, but with his own writer's twist.

Re-writes of Artistry in Rhythm, Intermission Riff and even a almost unrecognisable Peanut Vendor were part of it, but 'Poetry', 'Zippidy Altered' and the wonderful Neal Hefti theme 'Virna' were outstanding, with each bringing something totally unique.
I thought this an outstanding set and thoroughly recommend the album. A highlight of this Festival.

Hubert Laws guests on the album but Alex Budman did an outstanding job live - as did other soloists.

We then had 3 and a half hour gap to the final set billed as 'Bob Curnow LA Big Band Reunion'.

In Bob Curnow's absence Bobby Shew directed the band, which played the Pat Metheny music Bob Curnow arranged a couple of years ago for an album recorded in LA with Bobby and several other band members as part of that recorded line-up. The music was also, on that previous occasion, presented at an LAJI event.

The set list was 11 items from the Metheny/ Curnow collection and included pieces from other  Metheny jazz outings such as an encounter with Chet Baker, entitled "Chet's Call". Especially notable was Bobby Shew's sole feature - a beautiful melody written by Pat Metheny and dedicated to his parents "Always and Forever".

As Bobby said, regarding the rest of the music, "I think Bob Curnow has some Wagnerian blood"  and certainly this LAJI event went out with a huge BANG as the FFF's dominated - with high trumpet lovers especially excited.

Jack Bowers, who was at this event will be offering a more considered review of it all in his Big Band feature on All That Jazz in the weeks to come.

I apologise for the necessary haste in compiling these notes off the top of my head between sets  and thank you for your comments off-line, encouraging me to continue.

The photos, with many many others are beginning to appear on my Gallery at and will continue to do so when I get back to UK.

Gordon Sapsed

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