Monday, May 22, 2017

Dreaming Big with Brett Gold

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

“How many young people's dreams, you wonder, have been short-circuited by adults advising them to study something of practical value—something "to fail back on"?

For many years, Brett Gold's artistic potential lay fallow. A star trombonist in high school, he was steered away from a life in music—his trombone teacher, of all people, said becoming a musician was the last thing he should do; his father urged him to take a course in accounting—and he became a lawyer.

Gold is hardly unhappy about the formidable success he ultimately achieved in the field of international and corporate tax law. But only after he changed course and (apologies to Robert Frost) followed the road not taken— 25 years into his legal career—did he find himself on the path to true fulfillment.

Dreaming Big, the aptly named debut of his New York Jazz Orchestra, is remarkable not only for its very existence—Gold went a full decade without even touching his horn—but also for the striking sounds it offers. A tour de force, ranging from 12-tone melodies to playful Monk-isms to a stirring political statement, the album introduces one of jazz's most challenging new voices.

At the same time, the warmth and cohesion of Dreaming Big imparts the easy sophistication of an artist of far greater experience.”
- Gold Fox Records

Over time, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has become accustomed to messages from Brett Gold expressing his appreciation for various postings on these pages.

Who doesn’t like “atta-boys,” or “well done’s” or “Thank you’s.” Right?

But from these correspondences, I also developed an awareness that there was a musician lurking in the background, but little did I know that this musician had some major unfulfilled dreams until I got a “heads-up” from Brett that Terri Hinte’s jazz promotional services would be sending along a preview copy of his new big band CD!

Whoa! What? A new BIG BAND CD and, more to the point, one that would feature all original compositions written and arranged by one, Brett Gold!

In an era of self-produced CDs that appear in my mailbox by the fistful, what usually arrives are recordings that are heavy on self-promotion and light on quality music.

Let me emphasize at the outset that this is not the case with Brett Gold’s Dreaming Big  [GFR 1701] which releases June 16, 2017 on Gold Fox Records.

The music on Brett Gold’s new CD is not an idle preoccupation; not in conception; not in perception. You gotta pay attention, but if you do, I guarantee that it will move your ears in new directions.

Sure the influences are all there: Gil Evans, Bill Holman, Bob Brookmeyer, Neal Hefti, Hank Levy, Jim McNeely,Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Slide Hampton, Johnny Mandel, Don Sebesky, Nelson Riddle, Billy Byers and Billy VerPlanck.

But these influences have been assimilated and what emerges is Brett Gold’s own style, one that pieces together inspiration from some of the great Jazz arrangers in modern Jazz and then forms voicings, orchestrations and arrangements that contain big band music played in a manner that is altogether new and different.

As trombonist, big band leader and arranger John Fedchock points out on the CD tray plate:

“Dreaming Big … not only breaks new imaginative ground, but also respects that which has come before. Gives the listener a special tour inclusive of the gamut of styles, colors and emotions that a true jazz orchestra is built to sustain.”

In many ways, what Brett has accomplished with Dreaming Big is very reminiscent of what Bill Evans postulates in the following explanation of how his artistic growth came about:

“... I always like people who have developed long and hard, especially through introspection and a lot of dedication. I think what they arrives at is usually … deeper and more beautiful … than the person who seems to have that ability and fluidity from the beginning …. And, yes, ultimately, it turned out that these people weren’t able to carry their thing very far. I found myself being more attracted to artists who have developed through the years to become better and deeper musicians.”

With Bill’s statement as a reference point, what Brett Gold demonstrates on Dreaming Big is an assimilation of his influences such that he is able to use them to express his own voice: a personal sound that is the product of his musical conception.

In the case of a big band arranger-composer, this personal “timbre” is proclaimed through the texture or sonorities he employs to generate his unique big band sound.

But what is a musical definition of “texture” which joins with melody, harmony and rhythm [meter] as a fourth building block used to create a musical composition?

Ironically, of the four basic musical atoms, the most indefinable yet the one we first notice is – “texture.”

“Texture” is the word that is used to refer to the actual sound of the music. This encompasses the instruments with which it is played; its tonal colors; its dynamics; its sparseness or its complexity.

Texture involves anything to do with the sound experience and it is the word that is used to describe the overall impression that a piece of music creates in our emotional imagination.

Often our first and most lasting impression of a composition is usually based on that work’s texture, even though we are not aware of it. Generally, we receive strong musical impressions from the physical sound of any music and these then determine our emotional reaction to the work.

So what we hear on the eleven tracks that make up Dreaming Big is Brett’s personal conception, one that makes him different than other Jazz musician, and one - 50 years in the making -  that you’ve never heard before..

The USS Gold’s maiden voyage is ably assisted by a bevy of excellent musicians who add their interpretative skills to the mix to help Brett’s music come alive.

If you are a fan of big band Jazz, you can’t do better than this one as Dreaming Big is a notable extension of the classic large form of this music while at the same time bringing much that is new and different to it.

Hopefully, the Jazz world will not have to wait another 50 years to hear more of Brett Gold’s music.

Below is the always informative and helpful Media Release from Terri Hinte that will provide you with more information about Brett and the music and musicians on Dreaming Big after which you’ll find a Soundcloud audio file that offers a sampling of the music on the CD.


The June 16th release of Dreaming Big (GoldFox Records GFR 1701), which marks the recording debut of the Brett Gold New York Jazz Orchestra and features the compositions of Brett Gold, illuminates a most intriguing jazz odyssey.

A star trombonist in high school in his native Baltimore, Gold was steered away from a music career by his parents as well as his trombone teacher, of all people. Gold became an attorney and went on to achieve formidable success in the field of international and corporate tax law. But 25 years into his legal career, Gold changed course and reestablished contact with his musical muse.

Dreaming Big is remarkable not only for its very existence but also for the striking sounds it offers. A tour de force, the music ranges from 12-tone melodies to playful Monk-isms to a stirring political statement. While the album introduces one of jazz's most challenging new instrumental voices, at the same time its warmth, humor, and accessibility convey an easy sophistication one would associate with an artist of far greater experience.

Gold enlisted first-call players from New York's jazz, studio, and Broadway scenes to produce the recording, including saxophonists Charles Pillow and Tim Ries, trumpeter Scott Wendholt, trombonist John Allred. bassist Phil Palombi, and drummer Scott Neumann.

Many jazz composers and arrangers, including Gold, cite Gil Evans and Bill Holman as influences. But Gold's affinity for the odd time-signature music of the late Don Ellis is reflected in a number of pieces on the CD. Among the compositions on Dreaming Big, the Middle Eastern-themed "AI-Andalus" (featuring a virtuosic turn by trumpeter Jon Owens) is partly in 11/4 and partly in 5/4. "That Latin Tinge" is a 7/4 mambo, not the usual time signature for a salsa piece. Even the fairly straightforward ""Stella's Waltz" can trip someone up with its occasional judiciously placed bar of 5/4. And then there's *'Nakba," the powerful 11-minute finale, which was composed partly with Gold's Moroccan sister-in-law in mind. The song is named after the Arabic word for ''catastrophe," used by the Palestinians to describe the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. Featuring Ries on soprano saxophone, it traces the tragic history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I found out that you can stop playing music, but it's still there circulating in your head," Gold says of the years when he was not involved in music full-time. After finishing high school a year early, he attended the University of Rochester as a double major in history and film studies (Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa) and continued his music studies at the Eastman School of Music where he played with one of its nationally recognized jazz ensembles. But he soon placed his jazz activities on the back burner, earning a J.D. from Columbia University Law School (1980) and an LL.M in tax law from New York University Law School (1983).

When Gold returned to jazz, he had no problem coming up with ideas for compositions—his brain was full of them—but his sabbatical from music left him unprepared to execute those ideas both on paper and on his horn, which he hadn't touched in 10 years. He first sketched his pieces out and hired professional musicians to record demo-like CDs of them. Then, studying privately with distinguished teachers like Pete McGuinness, Neal Kirkwood, and David Berger, he learned how to write complex compositions for big band.

Eventually, in 2007, Gold was accepted into the esteemed BMI Jazz Composers Workshop, under the direction of Mike Abene, Jim McNeely, and Mike Holober. During his tenure there, he developed a book of more than two dozen arrangements, of which 11 of the best appear on Dreaming Big.

"As a member of BMI, I was pushed to write longer, more abstract orchestral pieces, something I resisted," he says. "Instead, I looked to the way Duke Ellington wrote for his band—his best pieces were seldom more than three to five minutes long. I also admired his idea of writing for individual members of the band."

Over the years. Gold has absorbed and strongly personalized any number of influences, some more than just musical. A study in diminished chords featuring clarinets and flutes, "Theme from an Unfinished Film" reveals his debt to what he calls the "internalized lyricism" of movie composers such as Bernard Herrmann, David Raksin, and Ennio Morricone. The genesis of "Exit, Pursued by a Bear (Slow Drag Blues)5' was Shakespeare's most famous stage direction. And "Al-Andalus'' was originally inspired by the hopes raised by the Arab Spring.

Gold does not play in the trombone section on Dreaming Big. "I actually function a lot better in a dark room writing music," he says. The roles he plays on the new album are those of composer, arranger, producer—and big dreamer. •

Media Contact:
Terri Hinte

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