Charles Pillow Ensemble – Chamber Jazz – Summit DCD 760 – 60:10 – ****
The emergence of chamber jazz as a musical genre has been much more prevalent in the last few decades. Blending classical music with jazz improvisation both challenges, and soothes, fans of both musical expressions. There is a pastoral beauty of classical chamber music, that mixes well with the swing that jazz can provide.
Over the years jazz saxophonists ranging from Charlie Parker and Ben Webster, to current artists like Eric Alexander, have risen to the occasion to emote over soaring strings. Trombonist and composer, Bob Brookmeyer, opened the palette, to include full orchestration, going beyond just a string section, adding full brass to expand the sound stage. He mentored Maria Schneider, who with a full jazz orchestra, brought in sumptuous Americana influences, inspired by Aaron Copland.
Multi-instrumentalist, Charles Pillow, is the latest to tackle blending chamber music and jazz. On his new Summit Records CD, Chamber Jazz, Pillow employs non-traditional jazz instruments like tuba, english and french horns, alto flute, and bass clarinet. Chamber music was originally written, centuries ago, to be played in palaces and large rooms, with one musician playing a single part. French composers such as Ravel and Debussy, were noted as influences by Pillow on the eight tracks presented here. Charles wrote four compositions and the other four come from Monk, Billie Holiday, Tony Williams, and Brazilian composer, Hermeto Pascoal. Pillow, himself, plays on seven instruments!
The opener, “While in Pass Manchac,” (an area near New Orleans), begins with soothing strings (three violins, two violas, and two cellos), backed by piano, before the horns enter. Veteran trumpeter, Scott Wendholt solos, as does Pillow on alto sax. It’s a warm introduction for that to come. “Charlotte and Evan,” written for Charles’ children, is lovely as the strings are tender, blending with a horn fanfare. Pillow is again on alto sax, while Gary Versace is featured on piano. The ensemble blend is striking, and Pillow’s alto sax is passionate and inspiring.
Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” features guitarist, Vic Juris, who recently passed away last New Years Eve, from cancer. His impeccable taste is shown here, and it is easy to be deeply moved by this sublime track. “Bebe” from Hermeto Pascoal, is given a tempered treatment. Gary Versace, the most prominent jazz accordionist today, adds to the “noirish” vibe, bringing a lilt, aided by Charles’ clarinet, and the percussion of Rogerio Boccato.
“Pee Wee” from Tony Williams, written for Miles Davis’ 1967 album, Sorcerer, brings out the best of the blend of the two genres. Both moody and introspective, the strings and rhythm section together are a dream team, with Juris, and Pillow taking lead. A lesser known Monk tune, “Oska T” follows. Marcus Rojas, roars on tuba, and I hear a New Orleans second line vibe, with call and response. Trumpet and trombone escalate the energy. A great arrangement…
“Abschied Ray” was written for Charles to honor his father, who passed away around the time this CD was coming together. The strings add to its beauty, and Gary Versace, on piano, helps bring out its beauty. Our visit with chamber jazz ends with “Atchafalaya Fiction.” Inspired by the largest wetlands in the US, located in Louisiana, the track runs almost eleven minutes, by far the longest number on the CD. It begins slowly, escalating when Alan Ferber’s trombone enters for an extended solo. Gary Versace’s piano voicings bring on reflection.
Charles Pillow has exceeded in strong fashion fusing the strengths of classical chamber music with jazz improvisation, in providing a program of gorgeous music that is quite welcome in these trying times.
Charles Pillow Jazz Ensemble:
Charles Pillow – flute, alto flute, clarinet, alto and soprano sax, oboe, english horn; Scott Wendholt – trumpet; Alan Ferber – trombone; Chris Komer – french horn; Marcus Rojas – tuba; Todd Graves – bass clarinet, clarinet, flute; Vic Juris – guitar; Gary Versace – accordion, piano; Jeff Campbell – bass; Jay Anderson – bass; Mark Ferber – drums; Rich Thompson – drums; Rogerio Boccato – percussion; Hiroko Taguchi – violin; Whitney Lagrange – violin; Lisa Matricardi – violin; Todd Law- viola; Orlando Wells – viola; Alisa Horn – cello; Alison Seidner – cello
While in Pass Manchac
Charlotte and Evan