Wayne Alpern, Frankenstein Review
by Nolan DeBuke
Wayne Alpern is a New York City-based composer, arranger, and scholar creating a catalog that combines popular and jazz idioms with classical techniques and repertoire to create a sophisticated cross-genre style. After years of composing complex new music, he embraced his personal history and indigenous musical culture and fused them with his classical background and training. Alpern’s catalog includes numerous jazz arrangements, string quartets, woodwind and brass quintets, mixed ensembles, pieces for string orchestra, and several piano works that have been performed and recorded by a vast collection of distinguished artists. Alpern’s theoretical expertise focuses on Schenkerian analysis and 20th-century music. He holds a law degree from Yale Law School and has practiced civil litigation for nearly twenty years. He taught at Mannes College of Music, Brooklyn College, Hunter College, and Cardozo Law School, worked at General Music Publishing, United Artists Music Publishing, and was Steve Reich’s editor. He is President and owner of Henri Elkan Music Publishing, Inc. and a lifetime member of the Society for Music Theory and American Musicological Society. He has lectured extensively in North America, Europe, and Russia. In his capacity as Founder and Director of the internationally acclaimed Mannes Institute for Advanced Studies in Music Theory, Alpern received the highly coveted Society for Music Theory Honorary Lifetime Membership Award recognizing his “substantial and longstanding accomplishments distinguishing the recipient and our discipline through his many good works on behalf of his fellow scholars and students of music theory for our collective benefit.” Alpern’s latest release, Frankenstein, explores a wide range of music with a rotating cast of musicians and a set special rhythm section of John Patitucci on bass, Clint DeGanon on drums and David Mann on reeds.
Carol King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” opens the album with a creative and stunning arrangement in its orchestrative colors. Alpern builds a funky groove around Patitucci’s big bass sound, DeGanon’s flowing groove, and Andy Ezrin’s keyboards. The brass ensemble plays full passages as Alpern takes us through the well-known melody. Both Barack and Michelle Obama are sampled into the arrangement. Kevin Ramessar’s guitar provides an interesting counterpoint in various sections. The overall effect of Alpern’s arrangement is impressive. The fact that a broad audience will know the melody allows the listener to appreciate all the colors and depth of planning that Alpern puts into his arrangement. Alpern’s writing goes beyond any specific genre as he has a penchant for framing a melody with a range of developing sounds that plays like a short story with a concentration of expression.
Alpern has the chops to pinpoint a genre when the song calls for it, as in Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island.” With Patitucci anchoring the bassline, the arrangement is filled with rich voicings, counterpoints, and expressive brass figures. Andy Ezrin’s keys keep the counter melody alive as Brad Mason and David Mannn turn in stirring solos. Alpern also uses samples of speaking to bring this into today’s genre of jazz. He is adept at supplying jazz sonorities while rousing fresh sounds from the song’s original melody, harmony, and structure. The result is a delicate bubble of material that functions as an opportunity for Alpern to script musical surprises.
Frankenstein is another project that reflects Alpern’s self-confidence as an artist. He understands how his music will benefit from the collaboration of his well-crafted ensemble. The eleven tracks create a soundstage of feelings that tell a story unrestrained by genre. Alpern’s music is always creative, pressed between transforming the known and making the obvious ambiguous. Alpern’s arrangements have tales to tell if you will just take the time to listen.