Like several jazz musicians before him, saxophonist Frank Macchia has found success working in Hollywood as a composer and orchestrator, building up a lengthy list of film and television credits. So it’s not surprising that this well-executed disc has a heavily cinematic flavor, calling up specific visual references and playing directly on the listener’s emotional centers.
As a follow-up to Emotions, Macchia’s 2006 release, Landscapes again places solo tenor saxophone opposite the Prague Orchestra in a mix of folk songs, standards and original works. This time all of the selections describe places, flying from desert wastelands to teeming jungles or sweeping across wide American vistas. Strains of fantasy and film noir jostle with hints of French New Wave cinema, as Macchia’s soulful sax winds around delicate harp and brooding violins.
At the heart of the disc is the original “Landscapes Suite,” a six-part swirl of shimmering strings, carefully layered rhythmic motifs and undulating melodies. The scenes are vividly painted: “Golden Fields” suggests sunlight and soft breezes, “River Rapids” flows and eddies, “Arctic Chill” is icy and forbidding. The visualizations are almost overdone, calling attention to themselves repeatedly. But there’s no denying the skill or force of vision here, and radical reharmonizations of familiar tunes like “Avalon” and “Down in the Valley” help to restore balance between the scenes themselves and the techniques used to create them.