IN A BLUE MOOD
by Ron Weinstock
The publicity for composer-arranger Wayne Alpern states that he “is a New York City composer, arranger, and scholar who integrates popular and jazz idioms with classical techniques and repertoire to create a sophisticated contemporary style of cross-genre or even post-genre music. … Alpern’s innovative compositions, recompositions, and rearrangements have been performed and recorded by distinguished artists from diverse musical traditions.”
Alpern describes “Skeleton” as “a new dance of old bones, songs of ourselves.” Further, he writes, “I studied classical music, but grew up with Motown and played in rock bands. That’s a resourceful (and characteristically American) aesthetic dialectic. I gradually came to view popular styles, conventions, and songs as treasures of aural archeology, found objects, musical tissue, vehicles for creative transformation to be re-purposed and revived as original art through the redemptive act of arrangement, rearrangement or recomposition at a higher level of synthesis.”
For this recording, he assembled, to play his arrangements, a brass ensemble with shifting personnel and sometimes a rhythm section. There is one tune by Alpern along with compositions from Charlie Parker, Dave Brubeck, Jessie J, Richard Rogers, Joe Zawinul, Jerome Kern, Donald Fagen, Clifford Brown, and others. On the opening selection, singer-songwriter Jessie J’s “Domino,” two trumpets, two trombones, bass, and drums, deliver a fetching, lyrical performance highlighted by Michael Davis’s trombone solo. Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology” is performed at a relaxed pace by a trombone quintet and drums. Various members including, James Rogers on bass trombone, soloing. The intricate arrangement allows for fascinating interplay between the players.
Billy Test’s piano introduces a swinging rendition of Brubeck’s “Take 5,” with David Smith’s heated trumpet. Mike Boschen’s euphonic trombone is spotlighted on a trombone quintet rendition of “Blue Moon.” A trombone trio and full rhythm section interpret Joe Zawinul’s classic “Mercy Mercy Mercy,” with Jason Jackson’s taking the solo while pianist Billy Test lays down bluesy chords and a brief solo. Sam Hoyt’s fluegelhorn shines on Frank Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” while Alpern’s “Blue Bones” sounds like a Kurt Weill composition with four trombones prancing around. Bassist Evan Gregor and drummer Josh Bailey complement the playful spirit of the performance.
A quartet of trombones (Noah Bless (trb), Matt McDonald (trb), Nick Grinder (trb), and James Rogers (btrb)), bass and drums charm us on Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned.” The bass and drums introduce the same four on Mack Gordon and Harry Warren’s “At Last,” with Bless soloing. The album incorrectly attributes the song to Etta James, who had the most famous recording of this song. These four trombones also captivate listeners with their rendition of “If I Only Had a Brain,” from “The Wizard of Oz.” Other selections include a chamber music-grounded version of a Handel composition by a trombone quintet and drums. Billy Test’s bass and Josh Bailey’s drums lay down a reggae groove for trumpeters Sam Hoyt and David Smith along with trombonists Michael Davis and Nick Grinder on David Fagen’s “I.G.Y.” A mellifluous trombone quartet rendition of Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring,” closes this album.
It was such a pleasure to listen to “Skeleton.” Alpern’s arrangements and the various configurations for brass ensembles have produced a thoroughly enchanting, irresistible recording
I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is a woodwinds quartet performing an Alpern arrangement of “If I Only Had a Brain.”