Discovering Simon Pilbrow’s Jazz

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COLOURS OF SOUND / PILBROW: Australia. A New Beginning.3 Studio City.4 Remembering Woody Shaw. Autumn Breeze.3,5 Fast Fingers.2 A Fischer’s Line.4 Surprise.1 Joyful. Try for Ages.2 September.4 Blue Six1 / The Brent Fischer Orchestra: Assa Drori, Alex Gorlovsky, Raphael Rishik, Susan Rishik, vln; Elizabeth Wilson, Lynn Grants, vla; Maurice Grants, Kevan Torfeh, cel; Oscar Hidalgo, contrabass; Rob Schaer, Mike Stever, Kye Palmer, Jell Bunnell, Ron Stout, Carl Saunders, 1Bobby Shew, tpt; Charlie Loper, Andy Martin, Bob McChesney, Scott Whitfield, tb; Craig Gosnell, Steve Hughes, bs-tb; Bob Sheppard, Alex Budman, Brian Clancy, cl/bs-cl/s-sax/a-sax/t-sax/fl/a-fl; Sean Franz, 2Ken Peplowski, cl; Kirsten Edkins, a-sax/al-fl; Gene Cipriano, bs-cl; Bob Carr, bar-sax; Lee Callet, bar-sax/bs-cl; Simon Pilbrow, pn; Brent Fischer, cond/vib/marimba/4e-bs; 3Larry Koonse, gtr; Chuck Berghofer, bs; Ray Brinker, dm / Clavo Records CR201709

Simon Pilbrow, a well-known veteran in Australian jazz circles, wrote a letter expressing his admiration of the late Clare Fischer’s website in 2011. Clare’s health was already declining, but that email started a friendship between Pilbrow and Brent Fischer, which eventually resulted in this CD, recorded and issued last year.

The publicity blurb accompanying the disc gives all kinds of stories and reasons for the titles of the pieces on this disc, but except for those which are obvious tributes, such as Remembering Woody Shaw, A Fischer’s Line and A New Beginning, which Pilbrow wrote for his wife Jean, many of the titles are just that. Australia, for instance, is more closely related to Rhythm Changes than any song or anthem relating to Pilbeow’s native land. Sometimes I think that jazz critics and publicists overthink these things. Even such renowned jazz composers as Charles Mingus, George Russell, Eddie Sauter, Benny Golson, Johnny Richards and Clare Fischer often titled their works on a whim. Unless geared towards a specific scenario, i.e. film or theater music (ballet, oratorio, opera), music is its own expression. Titles are merely a way for listeners to identify a tune. Interestingly, Brent Fischer wrote all of the arrangements. Even more interestingly, on this recording his orchestra includes a body of strings (9 in all, including a bowed string bass in addition to the usual acoustic or electric jazz bass) on two tracks.

The opener, Australia, is straightahead jazz in form and swing, reminiscent of the kind of music that Woody Herman, Shorty Rogers and Stan Kenton played in the early-to-mid 1950s, but it has a wonderfully loose feel to it and the chord changes are very conducive to looseness of swing. The strings do not play on this one, and Brent’s arrangement has the kind of bright sound (trumpet- and trombone-oriented in terms of scoring) that this music calls for. A New Beginning, as it turns out, is a jazz waltz, scored here for only a quintet. It opens with Alex Budman’s soprano sax over Chuck Berghofer’s bass, Larry Koonse’s swinging guitar and drums. Budman then launches into a solo in 4 over the same rhythm combination, which in turn leads to Koonse himself in a very imaginative solo of his own before Budman, again in 3/4, plays the final two choruses. A really lovely piece!

Studio City is a more complex piece in Latin rhythm with unusual harmonic movement beneath an attractive theme. The high reeds again get a workout, particularly Budman as soloist and Brent Fischer on marimba. Fischer added some nice muted bass figures behind his own solo to add interest, and the swirling reeds that follow lead nicely into Budman’s alto solo. There are also some nice piano fills from the composer. Remembering Woody Shaw pays tribute to the superb and sometimes overlooked trumpet great. Pilbrow describes the piece as being in three sections, the A theme (beginning with a trumpet lick that sounds eerily like Shaw himself) “being a statement,” the B theme “a question, and the musical tension resolving in the C answer.” Ron Stout, it turns out, is our Shaw sound-alike, and his solo turn is magnificent. Scott Whitfield’s trombone and Bob Sheppard’s soprano also have wonderful solos, including a brief duet.

Autumn Breeze is a bossa nova tune admittedly based on the music of Jobim. Here, at last, we hear the string section along with Budman on alto flute. Koonse is also on this track, and Pilbrow again takes a piano solo. This one is closer in style to a pop tune than the rest of the set. It is followed by one of Pilbrow’s jazziest pieces, the uptempo bop number Fast Fingers. The soloists here are Sheppard on alto sax, Stever on trumpet, guest clarinetist Ken Peplowski, Bob McChesney on trombone and Pilbrow himself, later trading licks with drummer Ray Brinker. This score almost has a Toshiko Akiyoshi feel to it…I half-expected to hear Lew Tabackin come roaring in on tenor sax in the spot given to Sheppard. Stever’s solo sounded much like the kind of astounding trumpet spots one heard on Toshiko’s records, too. There’s a nice polyphonic section where two reeds play off each other, with Stever’s trumpet dropping in for a third line—undoubtedly Brent’s work.

Pilbrow wrote A Fischer’s Line as a tribute to Clare in, naturally, a Latin rhythm. Originally conceived for four clarinets playing in harmony, Brent Fischer expanded it to a five-voice line. On this one we hear not only Budman’s soprano sax, Whitfield’s trombone and Pilbrow’s piano, but also the bass clarinet of 89-year-old Gene Cipriano, reportedly the most-recorded reed player in history. Surprise is another straightahead swinger, scored for full orchestra (soprano & baritone saxes, 2 trumpets, trombone and bass trombone), and featuring the tenor sax of Bob Sheppard, Bobby Shew as guest trumpet and Andy Martin on trombone.

Brent told Pilbrow that his 2005 tune Joyful reminded him of Vince Guaraldi’s wonderful music for the Peanuts cartoons of the 1960s and ‘70s. Fischer added a 16-bar chord sequence as an interlude at the end of each solo which the band incorporated into the original score. This one features alto flute over rhythm section playing the opening theme, after which the rhythm becomes looser and more swinging as Budman moves into his improvised solo. Pilbrow’s solo is indeed reminiscent of Guaraldi (everybody in the jazz world liked Vince, don’t kid yourself), after which the 16-bar interlude recurs, leading to the tune’s finish. Try for Ages uses an anagram of Gary Foster, long-time member of the Clare Fischer bands, It’s a jolly swinger, again scored primarily for clarinets. Budman solos on bass clarinet, followed in turn by Peplowski in the higher register, then by the duo trading fours for two choruses before the rideout.

The strings return for September, another Latin-based tune, this time in 5/4 and not quite as melodic as Autumn Breeze. The solos, however, are wonderful, particularly Pilbrow himself on piano, and the piece swings with a nice, loping rhythm. We wrap up the album with another bop tune, Blue Six, again featuring guest trumpeter Shew as soloist along with Sheppard, Whitfield, Pilbrow and Brinker. This one is scored more for the brass than the reeds, although brass is present (2 trumpets, trombone and bass trombone), opening up with a neat polyphonic intro played by trumpet, trombone and bass trombone before the trumpet section leads the band in the melody. Sheppard’s soprano solo comes flying out of the ensemble as if shooting for the moon! This is followed by another polyphonic chorus for trumpets and trombones, strongly reminiscent of the kind of writing Shorty Rogers did, before Shew makes his statement. This interlude is orchestrated somewhat differently each tone. Muted trumpets over bass trombone lead into the final chorus, which includes one more statement from Sheppard. A wonderful close to a fun album!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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