Christopher Zuar Orchestra – Musings – Sunnyside

Keep an eye on Christopher Zuar…

Christopher Zuar Orchestra – Musings – Sunnyside SSC 1434, 55:17 ****1/2:

(Christopher Zuar – composer, arranger, conductor; Dave Pietro, Ben Kono, Jason Rigby, Lucas Pino, Brian Landrus – woodwinds; Tony Kadleck, Jon Owens, Mat Jodrell, Matt Holman – trumpets; Tim Albright, Matt McDonald, Alan Ferber, Max Siegel – trombones; Pete McCann – guitar; Frank Carlberg – piano, Fender Rhodes keyboards; John Hebert – bass; Mark Ferber – drums; Rogerio Boccato – percussion; Jo Lawry – voice)

A pleasant development over the last 10-15 years is the progression of the blending of jazz with classical overtones.  The artist that is responsible for mentoring the lyricism found in this genre was Bob Brookmeyer. Going back to his work with the European New Arts Orchestra in the late 1990s, Brookmeyer wrote and arranged works of complex beauty. He taught at the New England Conservatory of Music and was a strong influence on Maria Schneider, who has gone on to Grammy winning fame.

The latest artist to help carry on this musical blend is the 29-year-old composer, Christopher Zuar, who studied with Brookmeyer. Zuar’s initial release, Musings, just released April 1, is a masterful blend of modern classical and jazz motifs. Recorded by an orchestra of woodwinds and brass backed by a rhythm section, Zuar’s compositions soar with a richness and beauty that demand reflection and leave a deep sense of serenity. They have an “Americana” influence that is replete with fanfare and a harmonic richness that is lush. Think of  Aaron Copland with a jazz feel.

Saxophonist Dave Pietro swings hard on “Remembrance” while the ensemble rises to a crescendo propelled by Mark Ferber’s drums. Inspired by Bach, the “Chaconne” has Frank Carlberg’s introspective piano lines mated with the contrapuntal horn section to a striking effect. “Vulnerable Effects” finds Jo Lawry with a wordless vocal that enhances rather than distracts.

“So Close, Yet So Far Away” is haunting with swirling effects until tenor saxist Jason Rigby enters with a calming statement backed by the brass section’s soaring horns. “Anthem” follows with bassist John Hebert contributing an expressive solo that bridges distinct saxophones and flugelhorn driven choruses. “Lonely Road” was inspired by the transformation of Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village in New York. Christopher did some composing while living in the neighborhood.

Musings provides an opportunity to experience a young composer whose music blends jazz and classical in a vibrant big band setting. He is someone who should have a bright future as a composer and arranger.

TrackList: Remembrance, Chaconne,Vulnerable States, Ha! (Joke’s on You), So Close, Yet So Far Away, Anthem, Lonely Road, 7 Aneis

—Jeff Krow

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