Folk Songs for Jazzers showcases mostly American folk songs played in a non-traditional big band setting. Of the ensemble Macchia writes, “I rejected the traditional big band section of 4 trumpets, 4 trombones and 5 saxes because I wanted a more intimate setting. Instead I chose 4 multi-woodwind players, 1 trumpet, 3 trombones (doubling on euphoniums and tubas) and the standard rhythm section, enhanced with vibes on several numbers.”
There is plenty to listen to for saxophone and woodwind lovers out there. Small gems such as the four dueling piccolo solos on Skip to My Lou demonstrate Frank Macchia’s passion for the road less traveled. Of particular note is the tasty woodwind soli on Oh! Susanna. Bob Sheppard takes the lead on soprano sax while clarinet,alto and bass clarinet fill out the section underneath.
Trumpeter Wayne Bergeron’s plunger solo, kicks off Macchia’s wonderful arrangement of the Scottish theme Did You Ever See a Lassie?
Polly Wolly Doodle is a beautifully written and executed arrangement which would bring a lesser ensemble to their knees. By Macchia’s own admission, “Polly Wolly Doodle, was probably the most difficult of the day, due to my sick fascination with constantly shifting time signatures.”
By contrast to the first five folk songs, Tom Dooley and Hush Little Baby showcase Macchia’s more subdued, yet complex writing in a latin ballad setting. Macchia takes a very nice extended alto clarinet solo here on Tom Dooley, further exploring this obscure solo instrument. I would be remiss if I did not mention the quartet of bass flutes. You can view the video online as well. As an alternative, Macchia writes for a soli of four bass clarinets on Hush Little Baby.
The Arkansas Traveller steers us into yet another direction – jazz fusion. Guitarist Grant Geissman streches out on this one, backed by Trey Henry on bass and Peter Erskine on drums. Not to be outdone, Bob Sheppard plays his own energetic solo following the soli featuring all the winds.
It is an understatement to say that Frank Macchia is very prolific. Folk Songs for Jazzers, as with all of his CD releases is jam packed with information, both musical and historical. The liner notes provide an interesting commentary to the recordings themselves as well as the historical perspective of these melodic gems. With 14 dense tracks, there is a lot to process. Certainly multiple listens are necessary in order to take it all in.
Vocalists Tierney Sutton and Ellis Hall lend their talents on Red River Valley and Amazing Grace respectively. There are also rarely heard tuba and bass saxophone solos on The Erie Canal.
Blue Tail Fly, Kumbaya and On Top of Old Smokey round out the 14 tracks on the CD. As with the rest of the recording, the ensemble and soloists demonstrate their enviable proficiency on top of Frank Macchia’s skillful writing. Macchia allows himself some space to spread his wings on tenor sax with the haunting Kumbaya. Macchia writes, “I wanted to portray it as a kind of tribute to Coltrane tunes like Alabama, which I find to be very moving.”
For those who purchase this CD, there is a bonus track offered via a website. That brings this to a whopping 15 tracks from a very prolific writing who I can only assume has created another two albums of music since the release of Folk Songs for Jazzers and Saxolollapalooza.
You can find out more about Frank Macchia and his Cds at frankmacchia.net