DREaming big liner notes
Dreaming Big, the debut big-band album of The Brett Gold New York Jazz Orchestra, is the product of more than ten years of effort, but almost a half-century of dreams.
The compositions on this recording are intended to evoke a range of emotions. There are swingers, jazz waltzes, lullabies, twelve-tone compositions, and, for good measure, some Latin jazz thrown in. The pieces certainly contain a lot of humor, but there are also deeply felt emotional statements and -- unusual for a big band recording -- a major political statement in the last piece, "Nakba." You will want to listen to the CD more than once to savor all its nuances.
Notes on the compositions:
The opener, "Pumpkinhead, P.I.," is actually a twelve-tone melody, but any relation to the music of Arnold Schoenberg is pure happenstance. You'll hear a rip-roaring tenor solo in the middle by tenor saxophonist Charles Pillow, who vividly captures the light-hearted spirit of the piece. The title, by the way, harkens back to the birth of my son; at a crucial moment the obstetrician couldn't help but comment, "Big head!" Then thirty seconds later, "Big baby!!" At the age of thirteen, he's now topped six feet (and counting).
It's unusual to find waltzes on jazz records, but there are two on this one. The first, "Stella's Waltz," was written to celebrate the marriage of my late father and my stepmother, and captures the nature of the joyous occasion. It includes lyrical solos by Scott Wendholt on flugelhorn and Matt Hong on alto, and features the entire sax section in a tricky group soli.
"Dream Moon," a ballad inspired by Gil Evans' classic nonet arrangement of "Moon Dreams," features soprano saxophonist Mark Vinci and guitarist Sebastian Noelle. The final chords of the piece, in fact, consist of the first two chords of the Evans arrangement, in almost the same instrumental voicing.
"Al-Andalus" is a Middle Eastern-inspired piece that is a tour de force feature for lead trumpeter Jon Owens. It contains shifting time signatures and some incredible, virtuosic playing by Jon. Al-Andalus, by the way, was the area of southern Spain that formed part of the medieval Moorish empire from the eighth century until 1492. Listen for Jeff Nelson's bass trombone spurring on the entire band near the end.
I wrote "Lullaby for Lily," the second of the two waltzes on the recording, for my now- college-bound daughter just after she was born. In arranging the piece for big band, I tried to convey the efforts of a mother and father corralling a rambunctious two-year-old to bed. Scott Wendholt, on cup-muted trumpet, and Mark Vinci, on soprano sax, are the dad and mom in this dual-instrument feature.
"Exit, Pursued by a Bear," for those who are not Renaissance scholars, is Shakespeare's most famous stage direction, from his play The Winter's Tale. I had always wanted to write a piece using this title, but it took me a while to figure out what exactly to do. Eventually, I ended up writing a slow blues with a bridge, featuring Phil Palombi's bass and Bruce Eidem's raucous, plunger-muted trombone. For those who care about such things, structurally, the choruses of the piece are in "arch" form, ABCDDCBA, known to rhetoricians as chiasmus. Dedicated to the author John Irving, for reasons obvious to his readers.
"Infinity Row" is another twelve-tone piece, this time in a more experimental mode than "Pumpkinhead, P.I." While researching a jazz musician turned classical composer named Meyer Kupferman, I was intrigued to discover that he wrote many pieces using a particular twelve-tone row he called the "infinities row," because there seemed to be an infinite number of compositions he could derive from it. I decided to use the same tone row in a big-band piece and see what I could do with it in a jazz context. Tim Ries is featured on tenor, playing a great stop-time chorus leading to a swing section with some call-and-response between the brass and saxes.
Several people have told me that "Theme from an Unfinished Film" sounds like a classical chamber music piece. But it didn't start out that way. In fact, it was one of the earliest melodies I wrote, and was initially an exercise trying to figure out how something called a tonic diminished chord worked in music. I expanded the tune later to constitute a full arrangement for big band, featuring the woodwind section on clarinets and flute. Dave Riekenberg plays the evocative flute cadenza and the closing flute solo over the rest of the band.
Anyone who lived in New York City in the 1970s and early 1980s cannot forget the sounds of salsa music coming out of boom boxes, car stereos and clubs at all hours of the day and night. "That Latin Tinge" is my "salsa meets jazz" piece. Written in the unusual time signature of 7/4, it features Scott Wendholt on trumpet, Dave Riekenberg on tenor, Scott Neumann on drums and, smack in the middle, the entire trombone section playing a soli in homage to the late salsa trombonist Barry Rogers. Try mamboing to this!
As the title suggests, "Monkfish" is a Thelonious Monk-influenced tune, featuring Frank Basile on baritone sax tearing up the studio in his two chorus solo, with Ted Kooshian's tasty piano coming in near the end. An important influence on my writing, Monk was a unique composer in the jazz world, who wrote tunes that defied conventional song-writing rules, and also had an exquisite sense of humor. I hope you finish listening to “Monkfish” with a smile on your face.
The CD ends with its most ambitious piece, "Nakba." Nakba, the Arabic word for "catastrophe," is the term Palestinians use to describe the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, which resulted in more than 700,000 Palestinians being exiled from their historic homeland. Many ended up in squalid refugee camps, where they and their descendants continue to live almost seventy years later. Featuring heart-felt playing by Tim Ries on soprano sax, "Nakba" recounts that story. It starts out in a refugee camp, with a Palestinian elder thinking about his current plight and the village in which he grew up and had to abandon. Then, signaled by muted trumpets and trombones (the memory motif), there is a flashback to his former, joyous life before 1948. War comes, represented first by the clarinets playing the Israeli national anthem, and then a battle between the two forces, Arab and Israeli. Once again signaled by muted trumpets and trombones, we end up back in the present day for the final, sad section. Is any resolution to this conflict ever possible?