CHEAP THRILLS / MARGITZA: Cheap Thrills. The Place to Be. Widow’s Walk. Brace Yourself. 45 Pound Hound. Premonition. Walls. Sometimes I Have Rhythm. G. & I. GERSHWIN: Embraceable You / South Florida Jazz Orchestra; Rick Margitza, t-sax; Chuck Bergeron, bs/dir / Summit DCD 757
This CD celebrates the 15th anniversary of bassist-leader Chuck Bergeron and his South Florida Jazz Orchestra. In doing so, he presents here eight originals and one arrangement of a standard by saxophonist Rick Margitza. Margitza is described in the press release as a “saxophone great,” but in 47 years of writing reviews and 55 years of listening to jazz I hadn’t heard of him before. In addition to playing solos, he and John Fedchock are co-producers of the album.
At the very beginning of the opener, Cheap Thrills, the rhythm section sets up a beat that immediately reminded me of Vince Guaraldi’s music, but it quickly changed course once the orchestra comes in. Although there is no imagination in the scoring, the South Florida band is a tight group and the charts are cleverly written. Guitarist John Hart, the first soloist up, thankfully plays in a jazz and not in a rock or funk style but his improvisation left me cold. Far better is Margitza, who plays a terrific tenor sax solo that extends over several choruses.
The Place to Be is a cute chart, taken at a nice walking tempo and sounding something like the old tune Back in Your Own Back Yard. The melodic line sort of stutters along, with spaces between the notes, before Margitza again takes over. Here, there are some nice scoring touches in the use of clarinet and flute in the upper range. There’s also a nice, slightly quirky piano solo by Martin Bejerano, and an interesting instrumental passage in which various instruments play a canon against each other.
Widow’s Walk opens with some nice piano flourishes which somehow turns into the opening motif played by the orchestra, but it’s left to Margitza to play the actual theme. This one has a sort of Latin-styled beat to it, graceful and flowing, with very interesting and attractive chord changes. Brace Yourself is a fast-paced, quirky tune, again with a sort of Latin beat but with a melodic line that is anything but…something like a cross between samba and Shorty Rogers. Hart plays another innocuous guitar solo before making room for Margitza to return, and return he does with brilliant playing. Drummer John Yarling also gets a nice solo on this one.
45 Pound Hound opens with a drum solo, then moves into Margitza playing the theme with staccato interjections from clarinet and muted trumpet before the bass trombones introduce the rest of the orchestra. This piece is very imaginatively scored, at least at the beginning. Guest trumpeter Brian Lynch plays a very fine solo, followed in turn by Margitza playing very cute variations with a syncopated kick. The scored passage which follows almost sounds like a variant on Margitza’s solo…very clever…before a return to the quirky orchestra. This is clearly one of the most interesting pieces on the CD.
Interestingly, Premonition almost seems to pick up where 45 Pound Hound left off: not that the tune itself is the same, but the lighter, more transparent scoring, emphasizing the high winds and low reeds, is in the same vein. I did feel, however, that the ensemble went on for a bit too long in this one before the solos appeared. Walls opens in ballad tempo with Margitza playing solo before the band, again focused on light wind scoring, backs him up. When we reach the theme proper, however, the tempo picks up and both soloist and band are backed by a heavy bass line played by the baritone sax. This one really swings when it finally gets going, with zippy little trumpet and sax figures that come in and out. Berjerano also plays quite well here. but again it is a showcase for Margitza.
Sometimes I Have Rhythm is an uptempo tune with more of a bass line than a melodic line—the latter is really just a series of stepwise scalar figures, against which Margitza has scored the orchestra to run counter, playing downward scales. After the solos there are some very cleverly arranged ensemble passages played by the band.
We end our excursion with Margitza’s arrangement of the Gershwin brothers’ classic tune, Embraceable You. Here Margitza indulges in some very interesting substitute chords as well as re-accenting and sometimes redistributing the rhythm. It’s a nice finish to an overall nice album. Great summertime jazz!
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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