Composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, Frank Macchia recently released Son of Folk Songs for Jazzers on Cacophony, Inc. The latest release is a follow up to his critically acclaimed Folk Songs for Jazzers which also featured Macchia’s captivating and complex writing executed by some of the finest studio musicians in L. A. Since moving to L.A. years ago, Macchia has been weaving his way into the inner fabric of the Los Angeles music scene. The San Francisco native and Berklee graduate has been busy in the studios, writing and arranging for feature films such as Superman Returns, The Fantastic Four, Austin Powers:Goldmember, Santa Clause 2, and television shows Nickelodeon's Oh Yeah Cartoons, Disney's Oliver Twist, and the Tonight Show.
Son of Folk Songs for Jazzers like its predecessor showcases mostly American folk songs set to 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.” The instrumentation here remains essentially the same with the notable addition of Valarie King on piccolo, flute and bass flute.
The recording opens with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star set as a ballad which quickly transforms into a “Latin-tinged opus” with a groove reminiscent of the Latin Jazz classic Manteca. An eclectic mix of woodwinds trade solos before a soli “that has every nursery theme (Frank) could fit in 16 bars!” Careless Love begins with one of Macchia’s favorite soloists on tenor. Bob Sheppard is featured extensively throughout Son of Folk Songs for Jazzers as he was in the original. Three Jazzy Blind Mice is a lovely arrangement featuring Tom Ranier on piano, however Macchia also features the flute section quite nicely on this one.
Frank Macchia has expressed his love of odd time signatures in the past and he produces another presumable brain teaser for the group with his “15/8 metered groove” on Itsy Bitsy Spider. The groove is quite comfortable to listen although I must admit I found myself conducting and counting in order to find beat one. Soloists Bob Sheppard and Alex Iles were provided a much tamer shuffle chorus on which to stretch out. Peter Erskine takes a brief drum solo and sets up the 15/8 time for the final piano ostinato and following melody.
Work Songs highlights another favorite time feel for Macchia’s writing – the New Orleans’ second line groove. Sheppard and Macchia trade spirited riffs on tenor while the rest of group join in on background figures.
With a jam packed cd recording full of 12 clever and densely notated charts, there are many highlights. For me some of the most endearing moments are the tender ones such as the introduction to Silver Dagger. Rather than another instrumental, Macchia chooses to feature vocalist Tierney Sutton and then himself on (alto?) clarinet.
Frank Macchia has never been afraid of unusual orchestrations as is evident in the five bass flutes on Three Cool Blind Mice. The “medium swing finger snapper” features Valerie King on the bass flute solo as well as guitarist Grant Geissman. Geissman appeared on Folk Songs for Jazzers and many may remember him from his stint with Chuck Mangione at the height of his popularity.
Cindy/Li’l Liza Jane harkens back to the big band swing sound of Benny Goodman’s Sing, Sing, Sing. No clarinet features here but we do hear from Bill Reichenbach on trombone followed by Sal Lozano on alto sax. Grant Geissman and Wayne Bergeron solo as well but the highlight comes in the form of Bob Sheppard’s tenor duo with Peter Erskine on drums. Breaking glass follows Bergeron’s searing solo and a very suitable shout chorus.
Frank Macchia’s arrangements of Frankie and Johnny and then Billy Boy truly capture the sad and mournful spirit of these tales of love, infidelity and murder. Jay Mason, Kevin Porter and Alex Iles get the nod on baritone sax and trombones. Frank Macchia selflessly takes great care in noting the soloists on all his recordings. The track listing for track 9 and 10 does list the soloists, however they may be credited to the wrong track. Whatever the case, wonderful solos can be heard from all three.
The sadness seems to continue within the intro to This Old Man but does dissipate with the addition of groove laid down by drummer Erskine and bassist Trey Henry. Frank Macchia opts to sing ala Tom Waits on this one. The later part of the tune also boasts a bass and low clarinet soli. As with the bass flutes, Macchia enjoys writing and presumably playing bass and contra bass clarinets. The sound here is very powerful, almost demonic.
The Boating Medley is almost a cleansing tune for the ears– I’ll explain. The previous three arrangements are dark and brooding almost to a default. As the listener is presumably taken on a journey down a dark and winding path, we ultimately end up in a happy place, not at all like where we’ve been. The Boating Melody is positively carefree in its initial late 50s, early 60s movie swagger. The arrangement twists and turns from Dean Martin and martinis – to Spongebobesque quote of Sailing, Sailing. I love it!
Frank Macchia is clearly a prolific writer with plenty to share in his musical arsenal. He chooses to surround himself with some of the top studio musicians of our time. It seems like a recipe for success. Keep ‘em coming Frank!
You can find out more about Frank Macchia and his Cds at FrankMachia.net