Tag Archives: Alex Norris

ANDY FARBER: MAKING BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS

Having a large jazz orchestra in this century has often posed challenges besides the economic ones. 

Many “big bands” get formed only for special occasions and are thus not well-rehearsed.  Then there’s the matter of repertoire: should a band made up of improvising jazz players go into the past or boldly plunge into the future, however one defines it?  Or should such an orchestra bridge Past and Present — not an easy thing: it means more than letting the saxophone soloist play GIANT STEPS licks in the middle of A STRING OF PEARLS. 

Saxophonist Andy Farber has found his own answer to these questions.  He’s worked with all kinds and sizes of ensembles comfortably.  But his own orchestra has found its own path that pays homage to the past without being anyone’s ghost band — in a way that’s both reassuring and innovative.

Here’s what Andy told Alvester Garnett, who not only plays wonderful big band drums but also wrote fine liner notes (!): “The goal of this record is to focus on the emotional and spiritual element of large group ensemble playing.  I feel like there is a great amount of nuance in this band, ao conscious effort in playing pretty, shaping lines, playing parts as if it were a solo.”  Does that give you a sense of the silken textures Andy and his Orchestra have created?

You don’t have to take it on faith.  The band sounds wonderful — and its overall sound is not heavy or ponderous, nor does it make you wonder what all the players in the band are doing (some “big bands” quickly break down into soloist-plus-rhythm that you wonder if the other players have gotten off the bandstand to check their email — not here). 

And the names of the players will tell you a great deal.  Andy himself is a fine solo player (as I hope you’ve seen in my videos of him sitting in at The Ear Inn): here he’s joined by Dan Block, Chuck Wilson, Jay Brandford, Marc Phaneuf, Kurt Bacher, saxes (with a special guest appearance by Jerry Dodgion); Brian Pareschi, Irv Grossman, Kenny Rampton, and Alex Norris are the trumpets; Art Baron, Harvey Tibbs, Wayne Goodman, Max Seigel the trombones; Bob Grillo plays guitar; Mark Sherman, vibraphone; Kenny Ascher, piano; Jennifer Vincent, bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.  And there is some hip vocalizing from the Prince of Hip, Jon Hendricks and his Singers.

The repertoire includes the happily familiar (BODY AND SOUL, MIDNIGHT, THE STARS AND YOU, THE MAN I LOVE, SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, JACK THE BELLBOY) and Andy’s witty, swinging originals (SPACE SUIT, BOMBERS, IT IS WHAT IT IS, and SHORT YARN) — and more.  All sinuously played, with a delight in sound rather than volume, texture rather than speed. 

If someone were to ask me the honorably weary question, “Are the big bands ever coming back?” I would play them this CD.  This band has no need to return: it is most reassuringly here. 

The CD is on BWR (Black Warrior Records) and can be found at better record stores everywhere?  Well, not quite — but it is available online through a number of sites and (of course) from Andy when you see him playing, which I urge you to do.

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HAPPY FEET (June 8, 2010)

I made my way to the second Tuesday-night appearance of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (at Sofia’s in the Hotel Edison, 221 West 46th Street, from 8-11 PM Mondays and Tuesdays) and recorded this delightful vignette: HAPPY FEET.

Everyone associates this song with Paul Whiteman and Horace Henderson; on their records, it’s played at a seriously brisk tempo.  But there’s another contemporaneous version (1930, I think) that Leo Reisman and his Orchestra [with Eddy Duchin on piano!] recorded for Victor — at a groovy tempo, with a blistering growl solo by trumpeter Bubber Miley.  (I read recently on the very informative Bixography website that Miley was a favorite of Victor recording executive L.R. (“Loren”) Watson, who was so impressed by Bubber’s sound and ferocious heat that he insisted that bands — including Hoagy Carmichael’s — make room for a Miley solo on their recordings.)

Here, the Nighthawks are Alex Norris and Mike Ponella, trumpets; Jim Fryer, trombone; Dan Block, Will Anderson, and Andy Farber, reeds; Andy Stein, violin / baritone sax; Peter Yarin, piano; Vince himself on vocals, bass sax, tuba, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums and percussion. 

James Lake and Deirdre Towers are the elegant, energetic pair of dancers.  Give them a low-down beat and they begin dancing . . . !

Who wouldn’t be happy?

BUILDING CASTLES IN THE EAR (May 16, 2010)

Some people think that jazz performances are primarily strings of solos, and this is occasionally true.  But one of the deep pleasures of listening to this music is in the three-dimensional shapes that performances can take.  This kind of immediate, impromptu architectural construction can happen at a jam session, where the players don’t know each other well, or it can be the happy collective invention of a working band. 

In either case, while a listener is absorbing the movement from one chorus to the next, it’s easy to visualize a jazz cathedral being built.  Everything adds to the larger structure: notes and lines aren’t there solely for their own evanescent purposes, but they also function as parts of something far larger that is getting created before our ears and eyes.

This happened all through the night at last Sunday’s session at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) by the Ear Regulars, who were (in the first set) Matt Munisteri (guitar) , Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Pete Martinez (clarinet), and Greg Cohen (bass).  For the second set, they were joined, off and on, by Dan Block (tenor), Alex Norris (trumpet), and Adrian Cunningham (clarinet).  To my ears, everyone played brilliantly — but a good deal of the credit for the lovely architectural shapes goes to Jon-Erik, who has quietly taken on the mantle of his and my hero, Ruby Braff — not only as a peerless player, but as a wondrous sensitive on-the-bandstand subtle orchestrator, making performances shapely and varied.  Pete Martinez was in burning form — his tone and attack on his Albert system clarinet is one of the marvels of the age.  Greg Cohen created one eloquent solo after another (no one has told him that the string bass is supposed to be less than orchestrally grand!) and providing fine support.  Matt Munisteri, once again, came through as one of the hardest-working men in music: never letting up, never coasting, either in rhythm or in fluid, tumbling lines.   

I’ve included a number of performances that particularly struck me as having an architectural glory.  See if you don’t agree!

Early on in the first set, they took on the pretty pop song (circa 1935) that everyone associates with Fats Waller, although he didn’t compose it.  (Later, Ruby Braff took it on, most deliciously.)  Its title is properly optimistic: I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES:

Then, a tongue-twisting novelty number identified firmly with Louis — who gave up on the lyrics early on in the performance.  I’M A DING DONG DADDY FROM DUMAS (“and you oughta see me do my stuff”):

And the concluding section:

Returning to Louis’s Hot Seven, here’s WILLIE THE WEEPER (whose lyrics describe the dream that Willie — he was a chimney sweeper — had.  I think Willie was under the influence of some illegal but highly uplifting substances, but since the Ear Regulars don’t favor us with a vocal chorus, you’ll have to investigate the text on your own).  Non-guitarists like myself might find Matt’s playing on this track unusual, but (as Jon-Erik pointed out) he’d broken a string and soldiered on heroically anyway.  Nothing stops our heroes!

In the second set, Dan Block brought his tenor sax, and they launched into a rollicking MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, complete with flourishes:

And (with trumpeter Alex Norris — he of the full, round tone — added) I’M CONFESSIN’, full of feeling:

If the Landmarks Commission only knew what beautiful structures were being erected on Sunday nights . . . !

2010 HAS BEGUN: VINCE, HEIDI, and THE NIGHTHAWKS

Video reporter George Whipple took a camera crew down to Sofia’s last Monday — that’s where Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks tear it up for three hours of hot jazz, sweet romance, and expert dancing every Monday night.  Whipple captured a bit of the ambiance: that’s Sol Yaged at the start, nimble Heidi Rosenau in the rust-colored dress, Jon-Erik Kellso working his plunger mute, Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman, and Dan Block on reeds, Harvey Tibbs on trombone, and the usual glittering suspects: Alex Norris on trumpet, Arnie Kinsella on drums, Andy Stein on violin, Ken Salvo on banjo/guitar, and Peter Yarin on piano.

http://ny1.com/6-bronx-news-content/ny1_living/whipples_world/

It’s a pleasure to watch this clip . . . but a greater pleasure to be there!