Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ron Carter & WDR Big Band - My Personal Songbook (2016)

Ron Carter and WDR Big Band- My Personal Songbook
In & Out Records. IOR 77123-9. Review by Frank Griffith)

My Personal Songbook is the perfect amalgamation of sterling bassist and composer, world-leading jazz orchestra and distinctive arranger forged together on this heroic recording. 

Arguably the most proment and innovative modern jazz bassist today, Ron Carter is no mean composer either, and provides ten of his pieces of varying style feel and tempi. They offer ace arranger Richard DeRosa the handy challenge of harnessing this melange of repertoire into the seamless collection that results. Delivering this in stellar form is the WDR Big Band, based in Cologne, a first class ensemble boasting an array of brilliant soloists that include trumpeter, John Marshall; Paul Heller on tenor sax, Johan Hörlen alto sax, and trombonist Ludwig Nuss. Frank Chastenier's melodic but driving piano solos score throughout alongside the churning battery of Carter's bass and Hans Dekker's drums. 

The leader's voice has such a sound and presence that goes well beyond his role in the rhythm section keeping time and goading on soloists.Its as if every note and rhythm and instrumentalist playing them are imbued with Carter's aura and message sending it well into an atmosphere of larger proportions. On a lighter note, Carter's playful propensity for quoting runs amok on his solo on "Receipt Please". He manges to squeeze in a circus call theme, Anything Goes and "All Blues" in as many bars. A feat worthy of a "red card" (in British football parlance) but all the better for his Puckish humour- always welcome in the music. 
The magisterial arranging prowess of Rich DeRosa is exemplary throughout. Born and bred in Long Island, New York, Rich is the progeny of the late percussionist and jazz educator, Clem DeRosa. Rich's other writing credits include the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra (dig his swinging vocal chart on "Lullaby of Birdland")and Gerry Mulligan (with whom he drummed with for many years) as well as a 1980s orchestral jazz concern lead by (Garry) Dial and (Dick) Oatts. 
DeRosa's Thad Jones-like rhythmic swagger and "red note" harmonies on Receipt Please, Blues for D.P. and Cut and Paste score highly in the 1960s/70s modern post Ellington/Basie tradition. For me , the real tour de force though is Sheila's Song which clearly draws from the sound world of the Gil/Miles 1958 Sketches of Spain collaboration. Not in a pastiche kind of way but more celebrating it in a contemporary fashion. 

A flamenco mood is established from the outset with a clever balance of mutes and flutes outlining transparent harmonies that belie their size and shape. One of Gil Evans' most remarkable skills  was to disguise and soften bracing dissonances (close and angular harmonies that could be accused of containing incorrect notes) with an orchestration that soothes and salves. DeRosa has clearly mastered this skill  bringing about a distinctive early 20th Century rural Spanish ambience to the proceedings....a "Manuel Defy Ya" vibe if you will.....(sorry..). What is also remarkable is that the composer solidly supplies the repeating ostinato bassline throughout the eleven minute track while allowing guitarist Paul Shigihara, and trumpeter Ruud Breuls to handle the solo spots.They do this magnificently, as well. 

This is a CD of epic proportions combining flawless bassistry and distinctive compositions performed brilliantly by the WDR band with DeRosa's unparalled arrangements. A hallmark CD indeed. Bravo to all hands.