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Portland Jazz Festival: A Celebration of ECM

John Fedchock

This one-night stand at the Standard was a teaser for the NY Big Band’s upcoming release, Up and Running-their fourth-due out in March on Reservoir.

Fedchock made a name for himself as a soloist and arranger during the seven years he played with Woody Herman in the 1980s. For nearly two decades now he has been playing his highly polished modern arrangements with his own herd, a group without gimmick, pretense or overt statement of purpose other than smart writing and great playing. It’s a real musicians’ band, not unlike the Vanguard Orchestra, stocked with highly respected veterans who welcome the chance to play some of their kind of music in a setting where everyone speaks the same language and gets a chance to shine.

Fedchock, sitting in the trombone section, started off swinging with the uptempo title track from the new album. He then kicked off a round of soloing with his unusually dark sound and fast-tongued bop runs. Trumpeter Jim Rotondi was in typically good form, spitting out fiery bop.

An almost-unrecognizable reworking of “Embraceable You” provided a fine ballad spot for Barry Ries, with a buttery soft sound on flugelhorn, while showing off Fedchock’s arranging chops and desire to always find something new in familiar material.

Highlights of the set included original compositions “Big Bruiser,” which Fedchock described as “a rough-and-tumble shuffle,” and “Blue After Two,” for which he got chuckles from the music-savvy crowd by describing it as “an old-style roadhouse blues based on the chromatic scale.” On the former, saxophonist Brandon Wright got an enthusiastic response to his classic, bluesy tenor solo. On the latter, pianist Ted Rosenthal set the mood with a witty take on honky tonk-style rolling triplets.

However, it was alto saxophonist Mark Vinci and baritonist Scott Robinson who stole the show, pushing past bop into more abstract solos that brought a welcome ragged edge to the otherwise clean-cut presentation. Vinci turned feathery, seductively soft openings into overblown chords and tasty hard-toned attacks a la Jackie McLean on both “Up and Running” and “Blue After Two.” Robinson was all over the baritone on his feature, Sonny Rollins’ “Alfie’s Theme,” another clear highlight of the set and an arrangement that will be on the new record (though with Gary Smulyan taking the solo). Robinson played the catchy melody straight and then was off, largely avoiding the booming lower register, preferring the tension created by playing high on the horn, then dropping down occasionally for powerful fast runs and honks against the swell of the band behind him. The group closed with John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice” in a clave rhythm.

As an arranger, Fedchock avoids easy, attention-getting dramatic swells and blasts, preferring a more understated, swinging sound and arrangements that often empty out to just one or two musicians, leaving a lot of room for drummer Dave Ratajczak and bassist Dick Sarpola to impress with their big sound and propulsive time.

Having just played the IAJE in January, with Up and Running the New York Big Band should get some much-deserved attention beyond its home base.

Originally Published