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).