There are big bands and then there are big bands driven by big ideas. What set the Clare Fischer Big Band apart was the extraordinary, expansive, multifaceted arrangements and compositions created by the ensemble’s late namesake throughout his career, a legacy that informs and elevates Continuum.
The vast lineup assembled for this album speaks volumes about the value placed on Fischer’s life’s work by a wide array of renowned musicians. The short list includes saxophonists Bob Sheppard and Gary Foster, trombonist Bill Reichenbach, tuba player Jim Self and drummer Peter Erskine. Both Fischer, on keyboards, and his son, vibraphonist Brent, who conducts the ensemble, are also featured. Brent’s “Step Up,” custom-tailored for the 30-member Clare Fischer Jazz Corp, colorfully underscores familial gifts and a common (yet highly uncommon) orchestral palette.
Of the 10 selections, “Step Up” is one of three pieces not composed by père Fischer. Worthy of special mention is Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan,” which, not surprisingly, receives a particularly evocative treatment, thanks in part to reedman Alex Budman and trumpeter Ron Stout. The seven Fischer compositions are arranged in ways that make marvelous use of orchestral colors, en masse and in solo settings, while sometimes bridging swing and blues traditions with European classicism. Nothing is more seminal and soulful than “In the Beginning,” or as hauntingly elegiac as “Blue Requiem,” or as emblematic as the Ellington-meets-Alban Berg salute “City by the Lake.”
Keep in mind, though: Purchasing Continuum is something of a commitment. One spin invites another, and the rewards for large ensemble enthusiasts keep coming.