Friday, April 27, 2018

Jim McNeely - Barefoot Dances and Other Visions - The HR/ Frankfurt Radio Big Band

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

Here’s another feature about new music that has recently made an appearance at the editorial offices of JazzProfiles and which we think merits your consideration.

Since moving to New York in 1975 after earning his degree in Music from the University of Illinois, pianist, composer-arranger Jim McNeely has had an enviable and esteemed career including a six year combined stint with the Thad Jones - Mel Lewis Orchestra [now the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra] and its successor the Mel Lewis Orchestra, gigging as a pianist in small groups led by Stan Getz and Phil Woods for much of the 1980s before rejoining the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra [VJO] in 1996 as pianist and composer-in-residence.

Upon re-establishing his big band connection with the VJO, Jim’s large orchestra credentials continued to grow as he became the chief conductor for the DR Big Band in Copenhagen from 1998-2003 and subsequently joined the HR Big Band - Frankfurt Radio Big Band as its chief conductor in 2011. He has also appeared as a guest conductor with Holland’s Metropole Orchestra on many occasions and the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra.

Along the way, Jim has received nine Grammy nominations and he was awarded the prestigious trophy in 2008 for his contributions to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra’s Monday Night at the Village Vanguard.

Given his deep-roots in big band Jazz, I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he has a new big band Jazz album out on Planet Arts: Jim McNeely - Barefoot Dances and Other Visions - The Frankfurt Radio Big Band.

Jim wrote the following sleeve notes for the recording in which he explains the motivation behind each tune and how each piece developed relative to his understanding of the “personality” of the HR-Frankfurt Radio Big Band and the musicians that comprise it.

It’s not often that we get such a lucid explanation of how and why big band orchestrations come into existence.


“The artist Paul Klee wrote "Art does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes visible." From our earliest days as children, we all have visions and fantasies. Imaginary friends; winning "the big game"; confronting monsters; visits from mysterious people we don't recognize. We create images and sounds in our minds' eyes that typically don't exist in the "outside" world. It is the calling of an artist to midwife these fantasies into reality. In Klee's case he used paint, pencil, canvas and cardboard. In my case I've used rhythm, pitch, and the musical spirit of the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. These are seven imaginary scenes. A couple of them imagine the return of great musicians no longer with us. A few begin with chamber-size visions before the whole band develops. They all represent inner visions made audible.

Bob's Here imagines the return of composer/trombonist Bob Brookmeyer — one of my mentors — who died in 2011. Christian Jaksjo soars on valve trombone; then Martin Scales' guitar solo leads into a whirling dervish of a finish.

Peter Reiter's piano solo leads into Black Snow. Martin Auer's flugelhorn conjures up the vision of new-fallen snow, normally a tranquil scene, but rendered improbably dark by internal conflicts within the observer.

Barefoot Dances is inspired in part by Henri Matisse's The Dance, and in part by years of dreaming. Gunther Bollman starts the dance on trombone. Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn finishes the celebration on soprano saxophone. A

Glimmer of Hope is optimism struggling to survive in an ocean of darkness. It starts with a theme (to return later) elaborated on by Rainer Heute on baritone sax and Manfred Honetschlager on bass trombone. The main body of the piece follows, with Peter Feil's trombone solo providing the glimmer.

Among many other things, the great arranger/reed man Don Redman was known for writing fantastic clarinet trios. After a prelude that bathes fliigelhornist Axel Schlosser in cascades of sound, Redman Rides Again imagines Redman's return. It features a "real" clarinet trio, and a "virtual trio" formed by Oliver Leicht and his harmonized clarinet.

I've dreamt about Falling Upwards, but so far can't actually do it. It starts with a tenor solo by Tony Lakatos. Then the first theme from Glimmer of Hope returns, this time a little more optimistically. Steffen Weber raises spirits on tenor sax. Then the band returns with more cascades swirling around Jean-Paul Hochstadter's drum fills.

The final piece starts with bassist Thomas Heidepriem offering a reflective solo cushioned by the ensemble. Then begins The Cosmic Hodge-Podge, a vision of a cosmic soup where galaxies are replaced by blocks of sound. Supernovas become solo explosions by Tony Lakatos on tenor, Axel Schlosser on trumpet, and Jean-Paul Hochstadter on drums. A single black hole emerges at the end, emitting just a smidgen of light (another glimmer of hope?). It may flourish and grow; then again, it may be simply the last gasp.

It takes a few years of writing for a band before you really get to know them. I started working steadily with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band in 2008. After three or four projects I began to see the musicians' faces on the score. I could hear their sounds; imagine their improvising. I could hear how they laugh. I was making thousands of arranging decisions based on the characteristics of each player.

By the time I wrote the pieces on this CD I knew the "ins and outs" of this band so very well. I tailored my musical visions to fit each player in the ensemble, and placed each soloist in a framework both familiar and challenging. This is truly a collaboration between the members of the band and myself. Thank you, all, for giving such an elegant voice to these visions.”                                   


You can learn more about Jim and his music by visiting his website at The HR Big Band site is
Planet Arts and order information about the CD can be reached at And if you need any media relations services associated with the recording these can be accessed through Jim Eigo

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