Joe Fiedler – Open Sesame – [TrackList follows] – Multiphonics Music MM 004, 65:16 [2/25/19] ****:
(Joe Fiedler – trombone, producer; Jeff Lederer – soprano and tenor saxophone; Stephen Bernstein – trumpet, slide trumpet; Sean Conly – electric bass; Michael Sarin – drums)
Children’s television programming has certain jazz connections which may not be apparent. Examples include pianist Vince Guaraldi’s soundtracks for the Peanuts TV specials; pianist Johnny Costa’s 1968–1996 run as musical director of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; Quincy Jones’ work on the funk/jazz main theme for the 1969-71 The Bill Cosby Show; and some jazz-inclined Sesame Street guests such as George Benson, Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Hancock. Which brings us to trombonist Joe Fielder’s 65-minute Open Sesame, where Fielder guides his quintet through 17 selections associated with Sesame Street’s many episodes. This isn’t jazz for kids, by the way. This is serious jazz which uses some well-known Sesame Street themes or cues as points of reference or jumping-off tangents. Fiedler’s got a bona-fide jazz background: sideman credits include pianist Andrew Hill, avant-garde jazz pianist Satoko Fuji and assorted dates as a leader, mostly doing Fiedler originals. In 2009, Fiedler got hired at the revamped Sesame Street TV program, where he became music director and arranger. Fiedler did not set out to create a jazz album steeped in the music of his ‘day job’ but the idea eventually developed into this recording. The in-depth back story can be read in the CD’s liner notes.
Fiedler is supported on Open Sesame by a top-notch five-piece. Soprano and tenor saxophonist Jeff Lederer has performed in groups led by Matt Wilson, Bobby Sanabria and drummer Allison Miller and fronts his own ensembles; trumpeter Stephen Bernstein is best known for his membership in the Lounge Lizards and Sex Mob and was musical director for some of producer Hal Wilner’s projects; electric bassist Sean Conly has issued indie-jazz records and performed with saxophonists Darius Jones and Tony Malaby; and drummer Michael Sarin’s credits include trumpeter Dave Douglas, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, avant-garde jazz pianist Myra Melford and John Zorn.
Fiedler deliberately re-arranged the Sesame Street material to transform the multitude of major keys into something less bubbly and sunny, so there would be more moods and textures. A good example is the five-minute opener, “Somebody Come and Play,” which commences with Conly’s dirty bass line and a bluesy undertow. And since there is no chordal instrument, Fiedler puts one of the horns in some unexpected places by utilizing counter melodies. The result is a familiar theme turned into something maybe not quite so familiar. Fiedler does something similar with a six-minute quartet arrangement of the famous Sesame Street theme, where trombone, tenor sax, bass and drums expand the main motif. During “Sesame Street Theme” Fiedler has a reverberating trombone style, Conly’s electric bass supplies a soulful recoil and the arrangement employs elements of resonance, rhythmic differences and harmonic variations to create fascinating structural interplay. There’s some hints at other notable musical themes as well. During the introduction to “Rubber Duckie,” Conly slips in fuzz-suffused bass lines which echo the renowned guitar line from John Barry’s James Bond theme. During the 3:38 arrangement, each horn has a solo moment, including Bernstein’s slide trumpet and other enthusiastic horn lines which have a frenetic and friendly connotation.
There is a charming mini-suite focusing on porcine friends near the halfway mark. The staid “Pigs Love Song (I Love Being a Pig)” starts with Fiedler’s droning trombone and the arrangement then modifies into an elegant Crescent City cadence. The slightly askew “Pig Interlude 1” segues into the smiling, Latin-esque “Magic Pig” where everyone enjoys brief improvisations. The somewhat avant-garde “Pig Interlude 2” then transitions into the upbeat, seven-minute Latin jazz-enriched “Bein’ a Pig,” where Bernstein showcases his entertaining trumpet skills, and Sarin and Conly layer a grooving beat. Another interesting tidbit is the psychedelic jazz number “Jazzy 10,” penned by jazz pianist Denny Zeitlin, who wrote some cues or songs for Sesame Street. Conly launches with a Jaco Pastorius-like electric bass solo and then horns and drums flow in and the swirling arrangement takes on a slanted perspective. A lot of tunes on Open Sesame have a humorous or jaunty nature. One of the sober pieces is the 5:34 “The Batty Bat,” which initiates with an Eastern European timbre before shifting to complex rhythmic sections. When Lederer solos he displays a stimulating juncture between southeastern European traditional music and American blues.
Open Sesame concludes with three tracks which any former Sesame Street viewer should recognize. First is the buoyant “People in Your Neighborhood,” where Fiedler shines on trombone, demonstrating his bright and elastic reach, going from a growling rumble to a smooth higher register, exploring the full range of his trombone. Then there is the moderately-paced and marginally serious “Put Down the Duckie,” where trombone, sax and trumpet both combine and proficiently solo. Lederer is notable during “Put Down the Duckie,” illustrating his comprehensive knowledge during an extended improvisation. The group ends with the only vocal track, a 1:31 run through the ABC’s during “Jazz Alphabet,” a delightful jazz cut originally done for Sesame Street by Donald Byrd and the Blackbirds. Joe Fielder’s Open Sesame is a wonderful reminder jazz is where you find it, and sometimes that means from childhood memories.
Somebody Come and Play
Sesame Street Theme
Doin’ the Pigeon
Has Anybody Seen My Dog
Pinball Number Count
Pigs Love Song (I Love Being a Pig)
Pig Interlude 1
Pig Interlude 2
Bein’ a Pig
The Batty Bat
People in Your Neighborhood
Put Down the Duckie