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Frank Macchia: Son of Folk Songs for Jazzers

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This record is an arranger’s dream. In addition to the usual jazz instruments, Macchia’s 14-piece group incorporates the full range of clarinets and flutes plus piccolo, English horn, melodica, baritone horn, bass trumpet, tuba and an array of mallet percussion. There are combinations in timbre that even Gil Evans may have never considered-for example, the five bass flutes in harmony on “Three Cool Blind Mice”; or the bass clarinet, contra alto clarinet, contrabass clarinet and acoustic bass combination on “This Old Man”; or the woodwinds-and-baritone-horn ensemble behind vocalist Tierney Sutton on “Silver Dagger.”

The album is a sequel to Macchia’s Grammy-nominated Folk Songs for Jazzers from 2010, and it employs most of the same personnel. The fervent, ever-soulful Bob Sheppard takes expressive care of the tenor saxophone solos, with Macchia joining him on “Work Songs” (a medley of “Pick a Bale of Cotton” and “Shortnin’ Bread”). Wayne Bergeron, the band’s wide-ranging lone trumpeter, and the three trombonists (Alex Iles, Kevin Porter and Bill Reichenbach) also take excellent solos. Guitarist Grant Geissman, pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Peter Erskine comprise the rhythm section.

With this album and its predecessor, Macchia has transformed unlikely material via his lush orchestrations and knack for creating alternate moods. “Billy Boy,” for example, becomes an ominous setting for Iles’ wailing trombone multiphonics-a far cry from pianist Red Garland’s bouncy feature with the Miles Davis Quintet of the late ’50s. “Three Blind Mice” inspired Macchia to produce two different takes: a “Jazzy” jazz-waltz feature for Ranier, and the aforementioned flute-dominated “Cool” version. (Neither is akin to the Art Blakey Sextet’s modal take from 1962.) Then there’s Macchia’s Delta blues-possessed arrangement of “Careless Love,” with singer Ellis Hall and Geissman wringing the juice out of each note. Like everything on this album, it’s a winner.

Originally Published