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January/February 2008

Gotham Wind Symphony
American Gotham
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A fascinating experiment in fusion is happening in the Apple involving the 50-piece Gotham Wind Symphony. It has released its second CD, reinforced by the 21-piece LaGuardia High School Jazz Orchestra. The added weight tends to exacerbate the main problem facing the GWS: ponderousness. Of the four composers represented on the new CD, Thad Jones and James Chirillo used just the GWS. Jones had no choice; his “Northwest Suite” was commissioned in 1984. Relying on clarinets where strings might have been employed, Jones wraps their impressionistic warmth around a lovely but all-too-brief oboe solo by Lynn Cohen. When Jones tries to swing, he confronts “the problem” of trying to lift an elephant despite drummer John Hollenbeck’s heroic efforts.

Composer Chirillo is more successful with “Prelude to a Minor Sensitivity,” cleverly based on fragments from Jobim’s “How Insensitive.” Melodic suggestions, and some harmonic changes, can be heard preserving Jobim’s descending roots. Chirillo’s development of the material is truly symphonic.

Scott Robinson’s “Eventuations” evokes John Cage in its bits-and-pieces-vs.-tonality approach. Generally unmusical effects, not counting Holober’s clavioline solos (an electronic keyboard affixed to Mike’s piano keyboard). Kudos to LaGuardia’s young players and their director, Kevin Blancq. Holober’s suite, “Road Trip,” is a swinging Americana nod to Aaron Copland, with a humorous highlight, “Swamp Stomp,” filled with calls-and-responses: the calls coming eloquently from altoist Dave Pietro, the responses by the cast of thousands.

Originally published in January/February 2008
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