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April 2009

Renolds Jazz Orchestra
Cube
Shanti

Cube is a suite whose subject is “the Deity’s great effort to restore peace and union with mankind.” The international orchestra includes top players like Randy Brecker, Miroslav Vitous, Greg Tardy, Donny McCaslin, Tommy Smith, Steven Bernstein and Adam Nussbaum. The music was composed and arranged by Fritz Renold, who also plays reeds, with lyrics by his wife, vocalist Helen Savari-Renold.

Cube is a stunning example of SACD surround sound. Engineer Klaus Genuit creatively arrays the music across 5.1 channels and conjures a believable three-dimensional ambient environment. It is an illusion simply not achievable in the two-channel world.

The sound matters because of the music. Fritz Renold’s charts render ambitious themes in meticulous detail. The high resolution of SACD captures the clamorous power of this ensemble, but also its inner nuances: the shifting layers of backgrounds behind soloists, the clean edges of the sectional counterpoint.

Soloists are assigned specific roles in the musical narrative. Tenor saxophonist McCaslin is the Apostle Peter on “The Rooster Crows.” Peter denied Christ three times—raucously, in McCaslin’s depiction. On “Caiaphas,” Tardy’s snaky clarinet evokes the character of the high priest who brought Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Some of the strongest portrayals come from players who will be new to the U.S. audience. Both baritone saxophonist Bernd Konrad and trumpeter Amir ElSaffar give vivid voice to Christ’s agony on the cross.

The least successful elements of this album are the stilted lyrics and the wavering vocals of Helen Savari-Renold. But Cube establishes Fritz Renold of Switzerland as a composer/arranger to watch. His writing is sometimes quietly fervent as a prayer, more often sweeping and aspirational, and always erudite in its use of jazz and classical and ethnic sources.

Originally published in April 2009
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