Pacific Jazz – Clare Fischer Big Band directed by Brent Fischer – Clavo
Roseanna Vitro – Clarity: Music Of Clare Fischer – Random Act

Pacific Jazz – Clare Fischer Big Band directed by Brent Fischer – Clavo CR201408, 74:28 (9/2/14) ****:

(Dr. Clare Fischer – composer, arranger, keyboards 3,7,11 & band members)

Clare Fischer, who died in January 2012, was a prolific musician who was comfortable in a wide variety of roles that combined all his talents, which comprised his piano playing, composing and arranging. All these attributes are on display with this recording Pacific Jazz (not the former Richard Bock record label of the same name)

Dense, complex, and harmonically intricate are the words that come to mind when considering the music offered on this session, starting with the opening track, “Cherokee”. Fortunately his son Brent Fischer, who not only directed the orchestra, also wrote the detailed liner notes, which are essential aids to appreciating the music and its structure. As for this track, it bristles with energy once the band is done with skirting around the melody, with alto saxophonist Alex Budman giving a fulsome solo. The Duke Ellington flag-waver “Cotton Tail” is reprised with an interesting take on the composition that moves it into new territory, with some Bartok and Shostakovich interjections.

“Sad About Nothing Blues” is a swinging little number that is a blues in name only. Bolstered by some cheerful but harmless lyrics by Darlene Koldenhoven and sung with panache by trombonist Scott Whitfield and trumpeter Carl Saunders, the tune breezes along in sprightly fashion. Duke Ellington and Barney Bigard wrote “Mood Indigo” and this version has some interesting piano from Clare Fischer to top off an arrangement that clearly would have pleased The Duke. The Lennon/McCartney favourite “Eleanor Rigby” is orchestrated in fine fashion to capture the distinct voicing that Clare and Brent Fischer have chosen to accentuate.

In the last of the tracks in which Clare Fischer participates, he does a solo keyboard take on “I Loves You, Porgy”. While he does not set any new standard for either originality or curiosity, he nonetheless provides a recognizably attractive interpretation of the composition. The album closes with “Ornithardy” which is a swinging but tightly woven number, with all sections of the band intricately involved. The tenor solo is from Bob Sheppard whose breezy tone fits well with the musical underpinnings.

The album is a complex musical adventure with an attentive enthusiasm for creativity.

TrackList: Cherokee; Jumping Jacks; Cotton Tail; New Thing; Passion; Sad About Nothing Blues; Mood Indigo; Eleanor Rigby; Blues Parisien; Son Of A Dad; I Loves You, Porgy; All Out; Ornithardy

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Roseanna Vitro – Clarity: Music Of Clare Fischer – Random Act RAR1016, 56:32 (9/30/14) ****:

(Roseanna Vitro – vocals & arranging; Mark Soskin – pianos & arranging; Sara Caswell – violin; Dean Johnson – bass; Tim Horner – drums; Mino Cinelu – percussion; Brent Fischer – vibes/track 9)

Despite being nominated for a 2012 Grammy Award in the category of Best Vocal Jazz Album for her release The Music Of Randy Newman, the name Roseanna Vitro does not conjure up strong recognition vibes. Nevertheless, she has been recording since 1985, and has been tagged with the often unwelcome soubriquet  “a singer’s singer.” One of her mentors was pianist Fred Hersch. In Clarity: Music Of Clare Fischer she ventures successfully into  unknown territory as the majority of Fischer’s complex compositions did not have lyrics.

Backed by the same cohort band that supported the Newman project, Vitro has a clear sense of what she wants to accomplish starting with “Morning” for which Fischer had written the lyrics in 1981. With its Latin tempo undercurrent, Vitro takes full measure of the melody with a strong reading. The only composition on this release not written by Fischer is “Web Of Love” which was done by the Brazilian song writer Ary Barroso. Vitro’s vocal range is on full display here, supported expressively by Sara Caswell’s violin.

“Swingin’ With The Duke” is an adaptation from Clare Fischer’s 1983 piece originally called The Duke, which in no way resembles the Dave Brubeck composition of the same name. Here, it is offered as an up-tempo number with Vitro doing her scat thing, sometimes in harmony with Caswell’s violin, and on other occasions just running through the lyrics in delightful fashion. One of Fischer’s more recognizable tunes is “Pensativa” which found favour with many jazz artists. Vitro covers Fischer’s lyrics with a bossa beat joined by bassist Dean Johnson in a short solo effort, while pianist Soskin is ever present throughout the number.

In 1998, in an interview with Maarten De Haan for the publication Artists Interview, Clare Fischer said of himself:” I am one of the best kept secrets in jazz history”. This description was probably due in part to the harmonic phrasings that infuse his music, making lyric writing and interpretation a challenge. On “I Remember Spring”, Fischer’s own lyrics are very evocative, and give this bossa-based composition a calming feeling.

While not a household name, Clare Fischer created a unique place for himself in the jazz world, and his music is given the acknowledgement and sympathetic interpretation by Roseanna Vitro which it deserves. These two CDs preserve his unique contributions to jazz.

TrackList: Morning; Web Of Love; Love’s Path; Seagull; Swingin’ With The Duke; Pensativa; Life’s Journey; Sleep My Child; Take Your Breath And Sing; I Remember Spring

—Pierre Giroux

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