Posts Tagged ‘jazz bassoon’

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.

Jazz Bassoon — Graham Lyons

My main area of research in the past few years has been the use of the bas­soon in jazz; in fact, I wrote my dis­ser­ta­tion on the sub­ject. But I’ve thus far neglect­ed writ­ing about it here, most­ly because there’s too much infor­ma­tion to con­dense into a sin­gle blog post! I’ll get around to writ­ing a his­tor­i­cal overview at some point, but for now, suf­fice it to say that there have been hun­dreds of jazz record­ings (close to a thou­sand, actu­al­ly) that include bas­soon­ists in var­i­ous roles, dat­ing back to at least the ear­ly 1920s.

Jazz Bassoon Cover

Today, as a start­ing point, I’m going to write about a recent addi­tion to my own record col­lec­tion: a 45rpm sin­gle enti­tled Jazz Bas­soon. The record was pressed in 1967, and fea­tures Gra­ham Lyons on bas­soon (also, as the cov­er points out, on clar­inet, sax, piano, and as arranger). I often hunt for par­tic­u­lar records; this wasn’t one of those. In fact, even though I’ve assem­bled an exten­sive discog­ra­phy of jazz record­ing ses­sions involv­ing bas­soon, I had exact­ly zero knowl­edge of this disc before it popped up on eBay.

I knew a bit about Gra­ham Lyons him­self, though. Among oth­er things, he record­ed a few tunes on bas­soon, clar­inet, and bari sax with the British trad jazz band The Tem­per­ance Sev­en in the ear­ly 60s. Lyons has led a var­ied career as a per­former, com­poser, and teacher of mul­ti­ple wood­wind instru­ments. One of his recent endeav­ors is the Clar­inéo, a sim­pli­fied plas­tic clar­inet for young play­ers. But this record­ing of his, released on a tiny label (that may in fact have been owned by Lyons him­self), had flown com­plete­ly under my radar.

Jazz Bassoon Record

The A side of this disc is a Lyons orig­i­nal enti­tled “Bas­soono­va.” This tune has been either re-released or re-recorded on a CD col­lec­tion of Lyons’s works, so I won’t post it here. It is, as you’d expect, a bossa nova. Lyons takes a rel­a­tive­ly lengthy solo on bas­soon in addi­tion to play­ing all the parts in sec­tions of four-part bas­soon har­mony and dual clar­inets. All of this is sup­port­ed by a rhythm sec­tion of Lyons again on piano, Rob Rubin on bass, and Bill Eyden on drums.

The B side, Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris,” has a multi-part intro that starts off with two bas­soons over a piano/bass drone. Once the band hits the tune itself, Lyons plays just a bit of the melody on bas­soon before tak­ing a cho­rus and a half worth of solo. He fol­lows this with brief solos on bari sax, clar­inet, and piano. But here, lis­ten for your­self:

Listen to Graham Lyons - I Love Paris

The back side of the sleeve has actu­al notes — rare on 7″ sin­gles, at least in my expe­ri­ence. The­se con­firm what we might guess from the title, that Lyons is with this record try­ing to make the point that the bas­soon can be a viable jazz instru­ment. “I want­ed to show the bas­soon in all its reg­is­ters,” Lyons writes, “the dif­fer­ent ways it could be used, and how it would fit in a jazz set­ting.” He also touch­es on what he sees as the main rea­son the bas­soon hasn’t been used more in jazz: “A tricky phrase which might take fif­teen min­utes to prac­tice and get right on a clar­inet or sax­o­phone is sure to take an hour on the bas­soon.” This is a great addi­tion to my quotes file, and echoes pub­lished com­ments by oth­er jazz bas­soon play­ers like Illi­nois Jacquet and Paul Han­son (more on them anoth­er time).