Like Gil Evans or much of New Testament Basie, one comes to Clare Fischer’s ensembles for the arrangements, not the solos. Specifically, Fischer is about the harmonies; close listening leads to awe. With ¡Intenso! , Fischer’s son and protégé Brent reveals that he’d thought of even more than we knew when the elder Fischer died in 2012. Brent uses recordings of his father’s final years to put the maestro’s keyboards into new performances of his unheard charts (along with some of Brent’s own), with formidable-at times sublime-results.
The sublimity comes in the form of “Renacimiento,” a Fischer tune that begins with flutes crosshatching two electric pianos (Fischer and Quinn Johnson), slowly incorporates lush layers of modernist-classical dissonance, and then transitions into a 6/8 waltz with harmonic tension in both horns and reeds. Then there’s Osvaldo Farrés’ slow tango “Tres Palabras” (one of Fischer’s favorites), engaging reeds and keys in brow-wrinkling but lovely interactions; and an extraordinary Afro-Cuban rendition of Ellington’s “Rockin’ in Rhythm” in which clavinet, delicate marimba, trombones and muted trumpets all meet in a four-way intersection that rests atop cushy saxophone backgrounds and subtly fluctuating electric bass.
The lesser moments are also of high quality. “The Butterfly Samba” features a vocal duet/delight between Scott Whitfield and Roberta Gambarini, buoyed by billowing flutes, and the already-fraught counterpoint of horns and reeds on “Solar Patrol” is supercharged by Sheila E. guesting on timbales.
There are good solos to be found on ¡Intenso! Ron Stout’s trumpeting and Rob Hardt’s work on both flute and tenor sax on “The Butterfly Samba” are admirable, and trombonist Francisco Torres does real justice to “Play Time,” the last song Fischer ever recorded. But Fischer’s writing, in death as in life, remains the star.