AnyWhen Ensemble — The Bright and Rushing World

Douglas Detrick's AnyWhen Ensemble - Bright and Rushing World

I have long intended to write more here about specific jazz recordings that include bassoon. I have many favorites spanning basically the whole history of jazz, which I'll get to eventually. But I've decided to start with a recent album from a band that's new to me. Last month I received a copy of The Bright and Rushing World by Douglas Detrick’s AnyWhen Ensemble (thanks, Dad!). This, the group's third album, was recorded in 2012 and released in March of this year. I've been listening to the disc on and off over the past few weeks, and I quite enjoy it.

The ensemble describes themselves on their web site thus:

We believe in the unexpected. Our signature instrumentation sets us apart, but we make our real impact through bold new compositions that integrate chamber music conception with jazz spontaneity. We believe that great music can happen anywhere, anyhow, anywhy, and anywhen — ours is fitting music for this bright and rushing world.

Indeed it was their uncommon instrumentation that drew my attention in the first place. The group is a quintet consisting of trumpet (Douglas Detrick), saxophone (Hashem Assadullahi), cello (Shirley Hunt), bassoon (Steve Vacchi), and drums (Ryan Biesack). This very assemblage of instruments seems to bridge the chamber music and jazz worlds rather nicely. Although they all certainly appear in both realms, saxophone and drumset tend to be associated with jazz while bassoon and cello tend to be associated with classical music. Trumpet is the one instrument here that commonly appears in both musics, and it's perhaps fitting that Detrick, the group's leader, occupies that linchpin position. Detrick also serves as the ensemble's chief composer. In fact, the quintet got its start playing music for his graduate composition recital at the University of Oregon, where Steve Vacchi is Professor of Bassoon and Chamber Music.

The Bright and Rushing World is a single album-length composition, divided into ten movements/tracks. They aren't all completely continuous, but most flow into each other without substantial breaks or strong cadences. The first word that came to my mind to describe this music was "atmospheric," but that's not exactly right. "Spacious" might be a better descriptor. Detrick makes judicious use of silence, as well as transparent textures. The pacing is also generally gradual - themes, textures, and grooves are given plenty of time for development. There are a few hurried moments, such as pointillistic interjections in "Into the Bright and Rushing World." But even these are relatively short, and are bookended by silence, laid back drum grooves, and/or much simpler melodic material. It is often difficult to tell exactly where the composed music ends and the improvised playing begins, which I imagine is by design.

Detrick provides the ensemble with many opportunities for exploring interesting combinations of tone colors. In the first movement ("The door is open"), saxophone, cello, and bassoon act like a single instrument, creating a lush organ-like accompaniment for Detrick's somewhat meandering melody. In the middle of the sixth movement ("You never thought to give a name"), the four melody instruments play overlapping slithering lines, almost the sonic equivalent of a mass of writhing tentacles. Cello, bassoon, and trumpet variously emerge as solo lines from this texture, then melt back into it. It's a very cool effect, and I can't really do it justice with a written description. What really makes these and other timbral/textural devices within the piece work is that these players blend with each other exceptionally well. This, combined with the fact that Detrick often places the instruments (particularly the bassoon) in extremes of range, stretches the listener's ear, sometimes making it difficult to identify exactly who is playing.

Although Detrick certainly has his own particular treatment of timbre in this piece, it is not uncommon for a bassoonist to appear in jazz groups that make interesting tone colors a feature of their music. Symphonic jazz ensembles of the late 1920s and early 1930s employed all manner of instruments in an ongoing search for new and different sounds and tone color combinations. The bandleader Paul Whiteman employed at least six wind players who doubled on bassoon, most notably Frankie Trumbauer. Later, in the cool jazz of the 1950s, arrangers favored thick textures and warm timbres. They made frequent use of instruments such as the bassoon, French horn, tuba, and cello to achieve their desired sounds. Gil Evans, the most prominent cool school arranger, used bassoons in his arrangements for Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Don Elliott, Lucy Reed, and Kenny Burrell, as well as on some of his own albums.

But while some symphonic and cool jazz groups kept their bassoonists in the background, Detrick treats all of his players as basically equal here. I've touched on Steve Vacchi's ensemble playing above, but he also takes substantial solo turns in the third, sixth, and eighth movements. His solos are fluid, and he sounds at home in the mixed chamber/jazz idiom. Over the course of the album, he explores most of the bassoon's range, from the bottom register all the way up to high E. The recording quality is excellent, and Vacchi's rich tone comes through quite well. Here's the third track/movement, "A seeker, insubmissive," which has lots of prominent bassoon work — Vacchi's solo starts at about 1:48:

Buy/stream the album: Amazon | iTunes | Spotify | Naxos | ClassicsOnline

If that's not enough to convince you to go buy this album, then you can hear more samples here. The Bright and Rushing World is an interesting and valuable addition to the bassoon-in-jazz canon, and I'm looking forward to checking out the AnyWhen Ensemble's two previous albums sometime soon: Walking Across (2008) and Rivers Music (2011).

Spring Recitals

This spring, I've finally gotten my act together enough to give nearly back-to-back recitals at CSU Stanislaus and Sacramento State. The two programs are very similar, and feature French music from the 1930s and '40s. I'll be playing two pieces for bassoon and piano, both concours pieces from the Paris Conservatoire: Gabriel Pierné's Prélude de Concert sur un thème de Purcell, Op.53 and Henri Dutilleux's Sarabande et Cortège. At CSU Stanislaus, these will be accompanied by Eugène Bozza's Sonatine for flute and bassoon. At Sac State, they'll be paired with two reed trios: Jacques Ibert's Cinq pièces en trio and Darius Milhaud's Pastorale.

I'm especially excited that the second half of each concert will feature my swing quintet, Hot Club Faux Gitane (with Billy Gay and Eric Johnson on guitars, Gary Williams-Guichard on mandolin, Jake Myers on bass, and me on bassoon). This group (seen in the posters below), is loosely modeled on Django Reinhardt's Quintette du Hot Club de France, which was active in Paris in the 1930s and '40s. I've been playing with the group for almost three years now. We play a mixture of the classic gyspy swing repertoire, other jazz standards, tunes from the post-Django gypsy tradition, and originals. This will be the group's second appearance at CSU Stanislaus, but the Sac State concert will be our Sacramento debut. Details and posters for the two concerts are below.

Thursday, February 20, 7:30pm
Snider Recital Hall, CSU Stanislaus, Turlock, CA (map)
Buy Tickets - $12/$8 students and seniors
With: Yan Yan Chan (piano), Jeannine Dennis (flute), and Hot Club Faux Gitane

Sunday, February 23, 6:00pm
Music Recital Hall, Sacramento State, Sacramento, CA (map)
Buy Tickets - $10 general/$7 seniors/$5 students
Live Stream
With: John Cozza (piano), Sandra McPherson (clarinet), Deborah Shidler (oboe), and Hot Club Faux Gitane

Spring 2014 Poster - StanislausSpring 2014 Poster - Sac State

Posters for CSU Stanislaus (left) and Sacramento State (right). Click for larger versions.

Klaus Thunemann’s Foray into Jazz

Michael Naura - Vanessa

The vast majority of people who have recorded bassoon in jazz contexts have been doublers who primarily play saxophone, such as Illinois Jacquet, Frankie Trumbauer, and Ben Wendel. A very small number of players (Paul Hanson and Michael Rabinowitz are the best known) truly specialize in playing jazz on the bassoon. But there is a third category as well: orchestral bassoonists who have occasionally ventured into jazz contexts.

In 1935, Sol Schoenbach recorded four tunes by British jazz pianist Reginald Foresythe in a small group that also included Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa. Kenneth Pasmanick, longtime principal bassoonist of the National Symphony Orchestra, played on two albums by guitarist Charlie Byrd. And Manuel Ziegler, principal bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic from 1957 to 1981, recorded a number of albums in the late 1950s with Gunther Schuller, the Modern Jazz Society, and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

But one of the most surprising (to me, at least) and impressive jazz outings by an orchestral bassoonist is Klaus Thunemann's appearance on German pianist Michael Naura's 1975 album Vanessa (ECM 1053). Naura and Thunemann are joined by Wolfgang Schlüter on marimba, Eberhard Weber on bass, and Joe Nay on drums. Schlüter and Naura worked together extensively, and Weber and Nay collaborated with them on a number of albums. But this is Thunemann's only recording with the group, and as far as I can tell, his only jazz recording period. On the back cover of the album, Naura writes:

...we team up with Klaus Thunemann, who is solo bassoonist in the 'Northern German Radio Symphony Orchestra' (NDR), professor at the Hannover College of Music, and who plays Schönberg under Pierre Boulez equally as compellingly as he does Vivaldi with the 'I Musici di Roma.' I believe it was precisely this distance from which Thunemann has for many years and with interest viewed jazz, that provided the stimulus which inspired us when we made this recording.

Thunemann figures prominently in three of the album's six tracks. "Salvatore" opens the album, and at 11:38, is by far the longest tune on the record. It features a soaring, lyrical bassoon melody followed by two and a half minutes of improvisation by Thunemann. Schlüter takes his turn, then the whole group engages in some very open-ended improvisation, including some bassoon multiphonics. The bassoon melody returns at the end. "Baboon" begins and ends as a dirty, funky tune in which Thunemann explores a rough and even sometimes growling tone. The middle is a blazingly fast group improvisation that does not include bassoon. Thunemann gets a co-writing credit on the album's last tune, "Black Pigeon". It opens with almost two minutes of bassoon improvisation - much of it completely solo. About two minutes in, it launches into a mid-tempo groove, with bassoon melody and a long marimba solo from Schlüter. Thunemann takes another solo turn before returning to the melody at the end.

All in all, this album contains the most extensive and impressive improvisation I've heard from someone we think of as a one of the giants of the "legit" bassoon world. Thunemann sounds at ease in the ensemble, and uses his considerable technique to great advantage, running all over the horn and engaging in extended techniques such as multiphonics, growling, and pitch bends. He even, much to my delight, explores realms of tone very different from what you hear on, say, his well-known recording of the Weber Concerto. You can read a more general review of the album on the between sound and space blog.

I learned of the existence of this album while working on my dissertation on the bassoon in jazz, and included it my discography. But at the time I wasn't able to actually get my hands on a copy - it hasn't ever been rereleased on CD. The first time I heard any of it was when Jolene Masone posted one track last year as part of the "Best Bassoon Week Ever!" series on her blog. That one tune blew me away, and I renewed my search for the album, finally snagging a copy on eBay.

At this point in the post, I would typically include one track transferred from the album. But this time I can do one better - I managed to dig up and post video footage of Thunemann with the Michael Naura Quintet playing "Salvatore" at the Kongresshalle in Frankfurt am Main, September 27, 1974:

Be sure to check out the free improvisation (including bassoon multiphonics), which starts around the 10-minute mark in this live version. And if that's not your thing, the band returns to the form around 12:25.

A New Edition of Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor, RV 495

I'm very excited today to release something to the world on which I've spent a great deal of time: a new performing edition of Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in G minor for bassoon, strings, and basso continuo (RV 495), prepared using a copy of Vivaldi's own manuscript. You can download the whole thing (for free!) at the end of this post. But first I'd like to talk a bit about my path to the piece and my methods in creating this edition. I hope that this will all prove useful to someone out there, particularly since this is one of the required pieces for the 2014 Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition.

Vivaldi Autograph

I've played a couple of Vivaldi's other concerti in the past. But my relationship with this piece began last year, after Nadina Mackie Jackson did me the honor of asking me to write the liner notes for the first disc in what will eventually be a set of all the Vivaldi bassoon concerti. I dove into the project with my customary gusto - books littered my desk and floor, and PDFs of miscellaneous Vivaldiana delivered to me by the wizards of Interlibrary Loan similarly cluttered my laptop screen. As far as I'm concerned, research is the fun part. If I could just keep finding and absorbing more sources without ever having to actually write anything, I'd be that much happier. But aside from the various print materials, I had a more-or-less constant Vivaldi bassoon concerto soundtrack - mostly pre-release mixes of Nadina's recording, but also versions by Michael McCraw, Sergio Azzolini, Maurice Allard, and others.

By the time I had finished the notes for Nadina, I was thoroughly fired-up about Vivaldi and his 37 bassoon concerti (plus two incomplete works). So much so, in fact, that I asked Lorna Peters, Sacramento State's wonderful harpsichord (and piano) teacher, if she'd consider programming one of them with Camerata Capistrano, the school's Baroque ensemble. Happily for me, she agreed, and I set about picking a piece. It's probably not surprising that I chose one of the concerti from Nadina's disc (RV 495), with which I'd been singing along for weeks. There are many things I love about this concerto. The first movement is fiery and flashy. The second movement foregos the upper strings entirely, creating a beautiful and passionate dialog between soloist and continuo. The third movement is just all-out intensity - it starts with the whole ensemble in driving unison (almost the Baroque equivalent of power chords), and contains what I think is one of the best licks ever written for bassoon (mm. 53-56).

I first performed the piece with Camerata Capistrano in February of this year, and luckily we've had many chances to present it again since then. Our tenth performance will come this Sunday, as part of the Bravo Bach Festival in Sacramento. This is the first time I've performed a single solo work so often, and I've found it to be an incredibly instructive and freeing experience. The ability to actually take chances and try new things over the course of multiple performances can shape your perception of and relationship to a piece in ways that are difficult - if not impossible - to recreate in the practice room or in a stand-alone performance. Even though I finished school a number of years ago, the one-and-done degree recital mentality is something I'm still trying to shake. But that's a topic for another post.

As soon as I'd settled on this concerto, I knew that I wanted to create my own performing edition. At the time, I couldn't locate an edition with string parts (I've since found one, available only from Germany). Plus, what better way to learn a piece backwards and forwards than to study the manuscript and make up a new score and set of parts? I could easily have used as my source the score published in 1957 as part of Ricordi's Complete Works edition. But the editor, Gian Francesco Malipiero, provided no critical commentary and appears to have made some editorial decisions without explicitly indicating that he'd done so. So instead, I went right to Vivaldi's own manuscript.

Vivaldi's shorthand for whole-ensemble unison writing

Vivaldi's shorthand for whole-ensemble unison writing

Vivaldi's bassoon concerti (and indeed most of his works) were not published in his own lifetime, and are only known to us through a massive collection of manuscript scores that now resides at the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin, Italy. Most of these are in the composer's own hand, and the collection contains many incomplete sketches and drafts. These are strong indications that the collection was Vivaldi’s own compendium of his works, and as such, the scores are far from performance-ready. The composer made extensive use of shorthand techniques, including dal segni that would be awkward in performance and simply indicating unison parts instead of writing out the same music on multiple lines (see the example at right).

Beyond expanding this shorthand, I endeavored to keep my editorial hand as light as possible. But inevitably, there were a few instances in which I made changes or interpretive decisions. I have detailed these in a critical report within the score. I have not added any articulations, dynamics, ornaments, or any other performance suggestions; these are totally "clean" parts. There are, however, a few important ways in which this edition differs from the Ricordi edition (and other editions that have used Ricordi as their source):

  • Throughout the concerto, Vivaldi indicates that the soloist should join the continuo line during tutti sections. Except for the few passages in which Vivaldi did not make such an indication, I have provided the soloist with the bass line in small notation. The Ricordi score leaves rests for the bassoon in all of these passages.
  • Measures 211-214 of the Presto are in D minor in Vivaldi's manuscript. In measure 211 it appears that he has written and then wiped away or scratched out a sharp symbol on an F in the Viola part, but there are no other F-sharps marked in those measures. There is then a sudden change to D major in measure 215. The Ricordi score places the whole passage in D major.
  • Measure 260 of the Presto does not exist in the Ricordi edition. This comes at the end of the last solo section, and the final ritornello is a repeat of measures 23-55. In Vivaldi's manuscript, he wrote out a full measure of resolution (my bar 260), and then indicated a dal segno to measure 23. Ricordi omitted this measure, and instead elided the last solo cadence with the beginning of the final ritornello.
  • Vivaldi wrote articulation marks over the eighth notes in the solo part in measures 249-252 and 258-259. The Ricordi edition renders all of these marks as staccati. But in Vivaldi's hand, the marks in measures 258-259 are clearly longer than those in 249-252 (see below). Thus, I have marked the eighth notes in 249-252 as staccato and those in 258-259 with wedges.
Two types of Vivaldi's articulation marks

Two types of Vivaldi's articulation marks

For the actual engraving of the score and parts, I used LilyPond, which I also used for my fingering charts. It can be kind of a hassle but produces very elegant results. Also like my fingering charts, I'm releasing this under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Basically, it means you can use, alter, copy, or distribute this however you'd like, so long as you give me credit and don't sell it.

It is important to note that this edition does not include a keyboard reduction. It is suitable only for study or for performance with string players and a competent harpsichordist. If you need a fully written-out keyboard part, I would recommend the new bassoon/piano edition published by TrevCo Music Publishing (they list it under its Fanna number: F8#23).

And now, without further ado, here it is:

Complete Score and Parts (ZIP)

Vivaldi RV 495 - Complete Set

Individual Files (PDFs)

Vivaldi RV 495 - Bassoon
Vivaldi RV 495 - Violin 1
Vivaldi RV 495 - Violin 2
Vivaldi RV 495 - Viola
Vivaldi RV 495 - Basso Continuo
Vivaldi RV 495 - Basso Continuo (alternate version with the second movement in score)
Vivaldi RV 495 - Score

Although I've gone over all of this with a number of fine-tooth combs, I'd welcome any corrections, comments, or other feedback.

An Inexpensive Cane Scoring Tool

Scoring is the process of cutting a number of parallel vertical lines in the bark a piece of gouged, shaped, and profiled cane. These cuts make it easier to form the cane into a cylindrical tube and help prevent cracking during the forming process. Different reed makers have various theories of scoring, involving different numbers, spacing, length, and depth of score marks. There is also quite a variety of tools one can choose from to actually perform the scoring, ranging from a $4 utility knife to Rieger's €946 scoring machine. The tool I have used for years is close to the inexpensive end of this spectrum. It is simply a tap (a tool for cutting screw threads) mounted in a file handle.

Parts and Assembly

Left: file handle and tap. Right: assembled scoring tool.

I certainly can't claim to have invented this - I saw Professor James Lotz at Tennessee Tech University demonstrate such a tool when I was a budding reed maker in high school. Miller Marketing also sells a scoring tool that looks to be basically the same thing, made by 2XReed. I don't remember what the original tap and handle cost (I've been using the same scoring tool for about 15 years). But I recently made a second one to keep in my office, and the parts came to a whopping $8. Here are a tap and handle similar to the ones that I recently purchased. If you're lucky, the tap will just fit snugly in the handle - my first tool went together that way with a simple friction fit. If you're unlucky (as I was with my recent parts), you'll have to glue the tap into the handle to keep it in place. No big deal. There are probably higher quality file handles out there with more consistent construction, but this is what my local hardware store had.

Tap Close-up

Detail of the tap

The specific size of the tap isn't critical - you just need something with cutting teeth (close up at right) with the spacing you want to achieve in your scoring lines. I use a tap for cutting 10-24 threads; the 2XReed tap looks bigger. If you actually buy your tap at a hardware store rather than online, you can just looks at all the different choices and pick one that looks right to you.

To use the tool, first put your piece of cane on an easel. Then, hold the tool perpendicular to the cane at the point you want to start your score lines - I like to start just above the second wire. Make sure that you have the edge of one set of cutting teeth lined up to dig into the cane, apply a bit of pressure, and draw the tool straight down your cane. I like to plant my thumb on the back end of the easel and use a sort of closing-the-hand motion to help keep my lines straight. One pass with the tool with score about half the width of the cane. To score the other side, just repeat the action on the other side. You can put one tooth of the scoring tool the last existing line to keep the proper spacing and direction of your score marks. I've thrown together a quick animation of the scoring process:

Scoring Animation

Click to see an animation of the scoring process

Finished Cane

Cane after a couple of passes with the tool

And there you have it: eight or nine perfectly parallel score marks in a matter of a few seconds. Above right you can see a piece of cane after a couple of passes with the scoring tool. I went a little too high on the left side of this piece of cane, but it's not a big deal. It does take a little practice to align the cutting teeth properly, and also to make the first cut perfectly straight. But getting the hang of it doesn't take very long, and pretty quickly you'll be getting very consistent results. The one drawback of this method is that it doesn't quite cut as deeply as I'd like; I like my scoring to go all the way through the cane at the back end. So, I typically deepen the marks with a utility knife - another pretty quick operation.