Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Colours of Sound" - Simon Pilbrow with the Brent Fischer Orchestra

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

“Music is something we all listen to everyday to enhance our lives. Even though I've been in the music industry for nearly 40 years, I am still excited to hear bold music statements by gifted composers. Simon Pilbrow is on a unique path of his own making, having created an enormous library of brilliant sonic works of art over the decades. I've had the honor of getting to know in great detail nearly 200 of his singular originals and have carefully chosen 12 that I feel represent the breadth of his accomplishments.

It has been a fantastic journey to bring these songs to life and I've enjoyed the challenge immensely. Working together with Simon, I meticulously assembled the stellar teams of professionals, both in front of and behind the microphones, that has led to the music we place before you.

From the emotional message to the caring attention to detail and enthusiasm we both encountered in all of the varied instrumental settings we hope you will delight in here, there has been a great camaraderie in all facets of production. Enjoy!”
-Brent Fischer

“Brent assembled a dream-team of exceptional musicians - all are highly accomplished players and incredible improvisers - who executed his inspiring but demanding charts brilliantly and played wonderful solos. The rhythm section of bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Ray Brinker was pivotal because of their great versatility and experience. Brent's enthusiasm has been unwavering, and it has been a great honour to collaborate with him and be surrounded by such extraordinary players.”
- Simon Pilbrow

“It”It’s wonderful to hear people playing my tunes and bringing the music to life,” Pilbrow says. “These musicians lovingly get into the music and play with heart and soul — and great technical capacity. These tunes have gestated for a long time, so finally recording them was kind of like birthing a child.”
--DL Med

The recent arrival of a review copy of Colours of Sound - Simon Pilbrow with the Brent Fischer Orchestra [Clavo Records CR 201709] brought to mind a flood of memories: some recent and some from when the world was young.

The recent ones had to do with meeting Simon, who lives with his family in Australia, for the first time at a Los Angeles Jazz Institute event and subsequently becoming ongoing internet pals with him.

Talk about first impressions. Not only was he a fan of the styles of Jazz that I favor but Simon was also a musician; a first rate pianist and now, thanks to a sampling of his writing ability on the new CD, a composer, too, of some distinction.

The older memories that the disc’s arrival rekindled had to do with the many fun times I had playing drums in a variety of rehearsal bands and/or studio recording sessions over the years.

And there were a lot of them because I usually jumped at the chance to hear new music and meet the challenge of performing it well [not always an easy thing to do depending on whether the person doing the writing knew what they were doing].

In this context, the best of all possible worlds came about when the other musicians assembled were good readers or capable improvisors or both, the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements upon which the music was based were interesting and the new music was voiced, orchestrated and arranged in a manner that made the music flow.

Good musicians playing bad or boring music makes for a long afternoon. On the other hand, when interesting stuff is on the music stand, my how the time does fly when you are having fun.

Enter pianist/composer Simon Pilbrow, arranger Brent Fischer and a host of Los Angeles’ finest studio musicians and their sterling interpretations of the 12 original compositions that make up Colours of Sound.

Talk about having a ball! The energy and enthusiasm that comes through the music on this recording is almost palpable. Simon’s compositions are uniquely different which makes them interesting to perform and Brent heightens the drama - and the fun - with well-structured arrangements that enrich the themes and embellishes their texture or sonority.

It’s not often that the listener is provided with an explanation of how the tunes on a recording evolve or how they are structured. This is mainly due to the fact that the folks writing the insert notes are usually not musicians.

But that’s not the case with Colours of Sound as Simon goes to great pains to expand our understanding of the music on this CD beginning with this narrative about his association with Brent Fischer that came in a correspondence from Simon to the editorial staff at JazzProfiles.

It is a description of the long road it took to bring this project to fruition and it underscores the need to offer - “Full credit to Brent Fischer!” - for making Colours of Sound a reality.

“Brent Fischer was absolutely pivotal in ... [the making of this recording]. He suggested the idea about 6 years ago., I had initially written to the Clare Fischer website indicating my many years’ appreciation for Clare Fischer and his music, that i was a part time musician but full time medico. During subsequent correspondence he naturally asked whether I wrote music also, and I indicated yes but had never formally recorded any of my tunes. I mentioned that about 7 or 8 tunes were held in the Gerry Mulligan Collection at the Library Of Congress

(I had given them to Gerry in early 1989 on his visit to Australia - but was only contacted by LOC to be informed of this in 2008 - I was obviously chuffed to know that Gerry had liked the tunes - they were in a folder marked “Some Good Tunes by an Australian - and will remain in this permanent collection - catalogued online - and the link I can provide if you are interested).

Although I had written a lot of tunes before and since that time, I had performed less than 30 of them ever on gigs, so the vast majority remain/ed unplayed, let alone recorded. Brent had stated in about 2011 that I might like to have a group of top US players play the tunes. Wow! So this is where the journey began. I learned how to use Sibelius music writing software, gradually put all my handwritten lead sheets onto computer, also worked on mini arrangements so they could listened in playback form. The first batch of these Brent heard back in 2013, and seemed impressed enough to keep on with the idea of ultimately recording a handful of them.

I worked on this further, and in the meantime through contact with him ( Donna Fischer, Clare’s widow, and Gary Foster independently and the late Mundell Lowe - whom I had originally met in Australia in 1987) we made some trips to LA to meet our friends and musicians, attend rehearsals of the CF Big Band at the Fischer home (where we met many great players including Carl and Scott), then two more trips to attend LAJI festivals as well as our growing musical contacts and friends, more general discussions about the possibility of the recording, how it might take shape, budget etc. I continued to put time into getting more of my tunes onto Sibelius, and then when I had tidied up a total of 180 or so tunes (and there are many more), and expanded their “mini-arrangements” on Sibelius, they were in suitable form for Brent to listen more deliberately and hand pick the ones he felt suitable for the recording.

In Feb 2017 we decided to go ahead, aiming to do the recording right after the May 2017 LA Jazz Institute festival when most of the people we had in mind would still be around town. For the next month I then worked hard on his hand-picked 12 tunes to expand and add additional ideas to give greater shape to them, and one by  one sent them on to Brent. He worked mightily to expand my skeletal arrangements into proper, full (can I say, first class) arrangements of the ensembles we had discussed and which were oriented toward the typical Fischer aggregations (e.g. BB, Clarinet choir, with strings, etc) to bring out a variety of textures and I believe showcase the al-roundedness of Brent’s arranging skills. He added a great deal of detail, imagination, clever instrumentation, compositional elements like fugal/counterpoint sections, interludes, lots of gems that I continue to discover on hearing it all - all the while brilliantly preserving the character and mood of each tune. We discussed particular personnel we wanted to be featured on specific tunes. e.g. Ron Stout on Remembering Woody Shaw. Brent’s role in arranging my tunes was paramount and done extremely well.

On top of this Brent was essential and pivotal in organising and producing the whole thing - logistics, contracting and negotiating with musicians, organising the studio, union contracts, conducting the sessions, as well as playing bass, the whole production. … I was more in a sideman role on my recording - and rightly so. The success of the project depended almost entirely on Brent and the brilliance of these musicians that we all admire and I am very grateful to be amongst these giants. I could not have pulled this off myself - I know my limitations….”

Simon also offered these detailed annotations for each of the twelve original compositions on the album which will help you get “inside” the process that led to their creation and development:


This cheerful tune from 2014 is loosely based on "Rhythm Changes", and the A-section has a completely pentatonic melody, although I discovered this only after I wrote it! It features the remarkable trumpeter Carl Saunders, young tenor titan Brian Clancy, and masterful trombonist Scott Whitfield.

A New Beginning

Over many years, I have written a number of waltzes for my wife, Jean. They are each subtitled "Waltz For Jean" and this turns out to be the very first one that I wrote for her in early 1989, shortly before we became engaged. It features Alex Budman's affable interpretation and sparkling solo on soprano sax, and a splendid solo from guest guitarist Larry Koonse.

Studio City

Coming to LA several times in recent years has been inspirational on many levels, not the least of which has been the opportunity spend time at the Fischer home, and absorb some of the rich musical ambience. It has been a pleasure to step inside this hub of musical creativity - to listen to Clare Fischer Big Band rehearsals, to explore Clare's sheet music archive, play on his piano, and observe Brent at work. "Studio City", a bright, up-tempo Latin tune inspired by our LA visits, was written in 2015. It is a "Thank-you" to the Fischers - Brent and Clare's wife Donna, for their warm welcome and kind hospitality. If there is some subliminal Fischer influence in this piece, I would be proud to admit it. Brent's lively arrangement features a gregarious Alex Budman alto sax solo and Brent's luminescent marimba solo.

Remembering Woody Shaw

I have long admired the great Woody Shaw, for his trailblazing trumpet playing and for his outstanding compositions. I met him in 1981 when he played in Melbourne, and he was very friendly. I was deeply saddened to learn of his death in 1989, and wrote this tune soon afterward, reviving it a few years ago and giving it some renovations. When I analyze it now, it has a certain logic to its form: the melody is in three sections with the "A" section phrase being a statement, the "B" a question, and the musical tension resolving in the "C" answer. Bob Sheppard opens the melody on soprano sax, and later joins Whitfield in vigorous solo exchanges. The marvelous trumpet solo is from Ron Stout.

Autumn Breeze

I have long enjoyed the compositions of Brazilian artist, Antonio Carlos Jobim and I would readily admit his influence. I wrote this particular Bossa Nova tune in 2008, and the melody is based around a simple motif that wanders away from its home key centre and works its way back again. It was conceived to be a gentle, relaxed kind of tune, and features Alex's sensitive alto flute playing, Larry Koonse's sympathetic guitar accompaniment and Brent's exquisite string harmonies.

Fast Fingers

This is a lively bebop tune I wrote in 2010. The main section came to me while at the piano, noodling around in triple octaves. The bridge is a more serpentine melody with a repeating, diminished scale phrase. Pianists noted for double- or triple-octave lines included Phineas Newborn, Oscar Peterson and Roland Hanna, but this tune was inspired by Benny Green who has pushed the possibilities even further! This mighty arrangement features a visceral alto sax solo from Sheppard, blistering trumpet from Mike Stever, virtuoso clarinet from guest Ken Peplowski, peppery trombone from Bob McChesney, an exuberant, layered solo free-for all, before piano trades with brilliant drummer Ray Brinker.

A Fischer's Line

Dedicated to the memory of Clare Fischer, and written in 2012,1 originally conceived this for clarinets in four-part harmony. Brent expanded it for a five-part clarinet choir with powerful vamping solos from Scott's trombone and Alex's soprano sax and clarinet later. It was a treat to have Gene Cipriano on bass clarinet, at 89, purportedly the most recorded saxophone player in history!


This is a happy tune that I wrote in 1990, and was another of those tunes that came to me as I sat down at the piano. The "Surprise" title was partly because the tune came out of nowhere, partly because of the abrupt chord change in the second bar of the melody, and also because my wife happened to enter the room at that very moment! Solo features include the muscular tenor of Bob Sheppard, the effervescent bebop trumpet of Bobby Shew, and the breathtaking, leaping trombone lines of Andy Martin. Brent composed a beautiful chorale opening for the tune, which slowly  accelerates into the main tempo - his father Clare would have loved it - and reappears later before the final melody.


This 2005 piece came to me while in church, and it has a "straight-8's" rhythmic feel. Brent told me that it reminded him of some of Vince Guaraldi's composing for "Peanuts"! On the day of the recording, Brent wrote a fabulous 16-bar chord sequence as an interlude at the conclusion of each solo, and presented it to us moments before recording it, which we ran through and incorporated. Alex's alto flute and Brent's vibraphone blend nicely on the melody.

Try For Ages

Written in 2011, the title is an anagram of Gary Foster, our good friend, first-class reed player and a fifty-year musical associate of Clare Fischer. The A-section is loosely based on a 12-bar blues structure, but with a twist, as the frame shifts between keys a minor third apart. The anagram came into my head while I was in our yard doing some bricklaying, which helped to cement it in my mind. Brent has arranged it for clarinet choir and it features excellent solos and interplay between Alex on bass clarinet and guest Ken Peplowski on clarinet.


Written for my wife Jean in September 2014, this is a Latin tune in 5. When I wrote it, I envisaged a string ensemble backing, and Brent has woven intricate five-part string parts behind the melody. Carl Saunders takes the melody and plays the warm flugelhorn solo.

Blue Six

This bebop blues tune was written in early 1981, in memory of much loved trumpet great, Blue Mitchell (1930-79). Blue was a distinguished alumnus of the Horace Silver band, as was our guest trumpeter, Bobby Shew, decades later. While most blues tunes are organized into three 4-bar sections, this one unusually has two similar 6-bar sections. Brent arranged this for nonet, featuring commanding solos by Bob Sheppard and Bobby Shew.
-Simon Pilbrow

As regards the totality of the music that’s on this recording, look at it this way: how often does someone come to town [from Australia] bringing with him a portfolio of brilliant new music that’s serves to peak the creative juices of Brent Fischer, one of the best young arrangers in Los Angeles, such that he orchestrates this collection of 12 original melodies  -four of them for big band, two for clarinet choir, two for a nonet, two with strings and two for quintet, with particular soloists and section players in mind - and then assembles a collection of the top studio players in town including bringing along guest artists of the caliber of Ken Peplowski, Bobby Shew and Larry Koonse to record it?

Given how rare this combination of people and events is, you owe to yourself to experience the music on Colours of Sound which is available through his website at  www.simonpilbrow.com. Amazon also offers it both as a CD and as an Mp3 download.

Here’s the opening track as a sample: