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Frank Macchia – Saxolollapalooza

Saxolollapalooza showcases the talented writing and playing of Frank Macchia along with some of Los Angeles’ top studio woodwind players. In the opening liner notes Macchia writes, “This project took about 18 years to complete. In 1990 when I was living in San Francisco I bought a bass sax and decided to arrange music for six saxophones (two altos, two tenors, one baritone and one bass sax) and a drummer. The idea was to create a wacky kind of contemporary jazz band but with only saxes and drums. I wrote a bunch of material and even recorded some demos with me overdubbing all the sax parts, but what I always dreamed of was to get a great section of saxophonists to play this material. The music was shoved in the attic for a number of years and recently some friends suggested I record it with some of the amazing players that live in Los Angeles. I looked through the tunes and kept seven of the original arrangements and then arranged five new songs.”

Here on Saxolollapalooza, there is no shortage of writing or playing for saxophone and woodwind lovers out there. From legendary reed man Gene Cipriano’s baritone saxophone on My One and Only Love to Sal Lozano’s pristine piccolo chops – to Eric Marienthal’s blistering sax solos – there is something for everyone. Even Michael Jackson fans can find something here with a funky saxophone and drum version of Working Day and Night. Throughout the CD longtime L.A. studio drummer and former Weather Report member, Peter Erskine shines brightly on the tubs. Bob Sheppard plays a particularly funky solo on the Jackson tune as well.

The credits list Eric Marienthal, Sal Lozano, Bob Sheppard, Frank Macchia, Gene Cipriano, Jay Mason all on woodwinds. Despite its quirky title, the clarinets, flutes and Sal’s piccolo are prominently featured along side the saxophones. Bob Sheppard’s clarinet solo on the New Orleans’s second line groove is among my favorites. It makes me want to pick up the clarinet and give it some more love!

If Frank Macchia has not thought of it already (and he likely has) these arrangements should be made available to the public. Perhaps remix the tracks as a play-along ala Music Minus on. I know as I sit here listening to these woodwind tracks I want to join the section, read the charts and play along!
The first two tracks immediately display the contrast the ensemble can create between raunchy saxophone and delicate woodwinds. Air Man Special by design or not, has a decidedly “Mintzer” flavor harkening back to the very popular Incredible Journey recording of the 80s. The feel in the section is great. Alternatively, the lighter winds featured in Down by the Riverside show the depth each of these players possess.

Caravan features Jay Mason on baritone and Frank on tenor. Macchia writes, “I was trying to get the feeling of being lost in the desert on Caravan and tried to channel Ellington for the voicings on this one.” He definitely succeeded. As a matter of fact the patronage paid to the New Orleans sound is ever present, especially in Lozano’s clarinet on Shortening Bread. Fans of New Orleans jazz and Dixieland will love this CD. For others who are less inclined to listen to more traditional jazz styles, the execution displayed here brings a new perspective to this music.

Bluesalicious once again features that second line groove Frank Macchia is so very fond of – and with good reason. The bluesy and funky exchanges between Bob Sheppard and Peter Erskine is yet another high point on Saxolollapalooza.

Creole Love Song is the perfect vehicle for Eric Marienthal’s contemporary alto saxophone sound and playing. He displays his wonderful ability to keep things funky and swinging at the same time – this time sans Erskine’s great time. Although Marienthal has a greater reputation for being an alto soloist, Sal Lozano shows his admirable skills on solo alto on Nat Adderley’s Work Song.

Macchia’s solo tenor opens Swing Low Sweet Chariot and leads the way up to the final That’s a Plenty where Sheppard has the last word on tenor saxophone The saxophones have a bit of a free for toward the end of the final cut. This seems a fitting end to this otherwise tidy and organized session.

I have to say that it has been a complete pleasure listening to Frank Macchia’s Saxolollapalooza. The writing is clever and the playing stellar. Some years ago there was an East Coast recording made by David Sanborn, Michael Brecker and Ronnie Cuber called Super Funky Sax. I had the pleasure of hearing that when it was new and many contemporary sax lovers embraced it. Saxolollapalooza now features Left Coast studio musicians in an expanded format. It’s not really just all about the sax. This recording in is destined to be a cult classic among sax and woodwind lovers. I know this first listening will definitely not be my last – BUY IT!

You can find out more about Frank Macchia and his CDs at frankmacchia.net

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