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Clare Fischer Orchestra: Extension

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Clare Fischer’s 1963 masterwork makes its belated CD debut mere months after the composer-pianist’s death in January. The reissue makes for an eloquent epitaph, a lovely statement of impressionistic West Coast modernism. In Fischer’s arrangements can be found the reflective surfaces, cool hues and bold angles of the era’s Pacific coast architecture, embodied in burbling brass, hovering flutes and hip, finger-snapping swing.

The album’s eight pieces serve far more as a showcase of the leader’s vivid compositional voice than as a platform for blustery big-band solo turns, though tenorman Jerry Coker is granted ample space to flex his reedy, pliant tone. Tunes like the opener, “Ornithardy,” propelled by Fischer’s percolating organ, welcome the usual descriptors applied to left-coast jazz-breezy this certainly is, sunny as well-but without the implied triteness of clock-punching Burbank studio bands.

Fischer’s hushed piano sets the tone for the aptly named “Quiet Dawn,” while “Igor” kicks up a tribute to Stravinsky by way of a beatnik coffeehouse. The insistent 5/4 rhythm of “Canto Africano” suggests a highbrow take on the jungle-drum exotica that filled the record bins at the time. Arguing for the rediscovery of a little-heralded voice, Extension is sophisticated and witty, rich with lush voicings and clever turns of orchestral phrasing.

Originally Published