Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra - Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most - Sunny NoDak 5001
You may not realize it, but if you have a TV, you've heard Alf Clausen's music many times before this. The two-time Emmy winner composed the music for Moonlighting, The Critic, ALF (no relation), Bette, Police Story, and many other TV series, served as musical director for numerous variety shows, and for the past 15 years has been the composer and songwriter on The Simpsons. But now, for the first time, Alf is presenting the music that is his first love.
"I've loved big band music since I was in my late teens living in North Dakota," he recalls. "It had a very strong allure. I ended up attending the Berklee College in Boston to learn the craft necessary to become a professional big band arranger. After graduation, my quest for 'gainful employment' dictated that I was going to have to move to either New York or Los Angeles. So, in 1967, I chose Los Angeles. It was a fortuitous move because many of the television shows were moving to the West Coast at that time, so there was a lot of work for arrangers out here.
"I couldn't specialize in big band music exclusively and still support a family, so I broadened my horizons and concentrated on writing music for television and film. I never lost my love for big band music; I just put it aside for the moment. That 'moment,' unfortunately, turned out to be quite a few years.
"In my early days I wrote a lot of original charts for bands and was fortunate enough to have some of them recorded by Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton and Ray Charles. But I always wanted to present my own take on my music with a select group of jazz musicians."
And this group is very select, a collection of first call studio regulars, gifted jazz players who don't get the chance to play much jazz in their day-to-day gigs. "Quite a few of them are guys who have been playing in my studio orchestra for more than 25 years," Alf points out. "And I think they just played their livin' hearts out!"
The opening track, Captain Perfect, pays homage to one of Alf's arranger-composer heroes, the late Thad Jones. The soprano saxophone lead is a very 'Jonesian' trait, as is the judicious use of dynamics. "That's what I always loved about Thad and Mel's band," he comments. "It never overplayed. It was all so musical." The soloists are Bob Summers on muted trumpet and Dan Higgins on soprano saxophone, and you can't help but be struck by the strong lead trumpet of Gary Grant. "Gary and I have been working together," Alf recalls, "since I was musical director for The Donny and Marie Show back in 1976."
Alf's melancholy ballad, Just Feelin' So Blue, which was once recorded by Woody Herman, serves here as a showcase for the sensuous alto saxophone of Brian Scanlon. "I was trying to write a ballad that was somewhat reminiscent of the Duke Ellington band,' he explains, "one that would have some fairly angular melodic turns to it. I always loved Duke's ballads, 'Prelude to a Kiss' and 'Sophisticated Lady' and all those beautiful Ellington-Billy Strayhorn tunes."
The inspiration for Trollin' for Thadpoles is quite obvious both from the title and the writing. Alf's tricky unison theme draws upon his hero's love of timbre and tone color, as all five trumpeters use different mutes, and all five woodwind players play different instruments - including piccolo! There is a terrific solo line-up - Andy Martin on trombone, Bob Summers on trumpet, Bob Sheppard on tenor sax, Mike Lang on piano, and, dominating the powerful coda, Bernie Dresel's drums - as well as a meticulously played, soprano-led saxophone soli chorus.
Lookin' for the Back Door, composed in honor of the legendary North Hollywood jazz club, Donte's, is a very singable tune, sort of a melody in search of a lyric. Pianist Mike Lang contributes two relaxed choruses to get things started, before Warren Luening's trumpet emerges from the full ensemble for two choruses of his own. An engaging trombone soli, led by Bob Payne, over Bernie Dresel's deft brush work sets the stage for Bob Efford's baritone saxophone. Here, and throughout this recording, Alf's writing maintains that delicate balance between solo improvisation and ensemble writing.
Tenor saxophonist Terry Harrington - the long-time baritone saxophone voice of "Lisa Simpson" - and trombonist Bob McChesney are featured, together and in solos, on Samba de Elencia, which enjoys an added lift from Latin percussionist Lenny Castro. Of special note is Alan Kaplan's rock-solid bass trombone artistry. "This piece had its inspiration," Alf notes, "from the early bossa nova and samba works written by Gary McFarland, another arranging-composing hero of mine."
Alf's Festival Suite: In Memoriam originally was a commission from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, with support from a National Endowment for the Arts in Jazz grant. Each movement is dedicated to one of his three favorite composers: Duke Ellington, Gary McFarland, and Oliver Nelson. "They weren't necessarily written in their styles," Alf emphasizes. "They are written in my own style as dedications to those three guys.
"For example," he continues, "the first piece, Brief Encounter, is a bit reminiscent of some early Chick Corea-style tunes. My focus was to write a piece that had an unusual form, as Bob Summers so wryly stated, 'The usual 52-bar chorus.' " Following a chorus of constantly-building brass section vs. sax section interplay, Bob solos on this movement, as well as Dan Higgins on alto and Mike Lang on piano. The Chuck Findley-led trumpet-over-saxes soli is as challenging as they come, but impeccably executed.
Ballad for Gary opens with a stunningly beautiful contribution by Mike Lang. "He is one of the unsung heroes of our industry," Alf declares, "not that he hasn't received his share of accolades, with his wonderful performances on many, many albums and countless film scores. But I don't think they quite do justice to the wide range of his talents. He told me that, while playing on this album, I took him places where he'd never been before, which I looked upon as a compliment." And don't miss how Mike underscores and enhances soprano saxophonist Brian Scanlon's theme statement.
Bob Summers and Dan Higgins are back in the solo spotlight for the final movement, A Final Farewell , a sprightly samba with a mysterious undertone, energized by the reappearance of Lenny Castro's percussion and by the stellar lead-trumpet precision of Charly Davis.
One final nod to Thad Jones, A Pair of Threes, employs the "small band within a big band" format that he used so well, setting off Warren Luening's trumpet, Bob Efford's baritone saxophone, and Ken Wild's bass against the full ensemble. It also allows Alf one more chance to speak about Thad's influence.
"When I went to the Berklee College I studied with Herb Pomeroy, and he turned my world upside down with a fresh, new way of creating big band voicings. After having finished his courses and written quite a few charts, I said to myself, 'OK, I have all this technique. How am I going to make it come together musically?' The next week the album, Presenting Thad Jones-Mel Lewis & The Jazz Orchestra, hit the stores. My excited reaction was, 'There it all is.' It was so inspirational to me and left such an impression that I thought, 'I'm going to see if I can compose this chart as an homage to Thad.' I wrote it quite a few years ago and was really happy with the way it turned out. Saxophonist Jerome Richardson once told me that this 'homage' chart brought a big smile to Thad's face."
The only non-original in the set, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, by Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman, is best known as a ballad, but here it breaks into a samba in honor of one its creators, whom Alf knew in his days as a jazz bassist. "Tommy Wolf and I used to gig together in the late '60s and early-to-middle '70s - he was a jazz piano player and a very, very good one, besides being an amazing songwriter - and we ended up playing this tune as a samba. Tommy unfortunately passed away at the age of 53, and I lost a very dear friend. Spring is my tribute to him." This upbeat Latin closer gives us another opportunity to enjoy two of the CD's solos stars - a full chorus from Bob Summers and the closing bridge by Mike Lang.
"As I said before," Alf concludes, "big band music is my first love, even though I've had a lot of wonderful experiences playing and writing all different kinds of music in my career in Hollywood. I'm just thrilled to be able to record these charts with a band of this quality - it's been a lifelong dream for me. And hopefully it will be my first of many big band recordings
|Complete CD Liner Notes Credits|
|Eric Alexander||Full Range||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Helio Alves||Portrait In Black and White||Reservoir Music|
|Anush Apoyan||A Dedication to Horace Silver||Black & Blue|
|Robert Bachner & Helmar Hill||Ein feiner Zug||ATS|
|Thomas Barber's Janus Bloc||Snow Road||D Clef|
|Carl Bartlett, Jr.||Hopeful|
|Count Basie||Chairman of the Board||Roulette Jazz|
|Roni Ben-Hur||Signature||Reservoir Music|
|Walter Blanding||The Olive Tree||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Don Braden||After Dark||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jane Bunnett||Cuban Odyssey||EMI Music Canada|
|Sharel Cassity||Relentless||Jazz Legacy Productions|
|Al Clausen||Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most||Sunny NoDak|
|Steve Davis||Vibe Up!||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Dena DeRose||Introducing Dena DeRose||Sharp Nine|
|Dena DeRose||United||High Note|
|Orrin Evans||Grown Folk Bizness||Criss Cross Jazz|
|John Fedchock New York Big Band||No Nonsense||Reservoir Music|
|John Fedchock New York Big Band||Up & Running||Reservoir Music|
|Carl Fontana||The Fifties||Uptown|
|Sayuri Goto||Flashback||Fever Pitch|
|Sayuri Goto||Prayer||Fever Pitch|
|Jimmy Greene||Introducing Jimmy Greene||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Coleman Hawkins||The Best of Coleman Hawkins [Prestige Profiles: Coleman Hawkins]||Prestige|
|David Hazeltine||A World for Her||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Conrad Herwig||Heart of Darkness||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jane Jarvis||Sagmo's Song||Faith|
|Jane Jarvis & Benny Powell||Two of a Kind||Faith|
|Ingrid Jensen||Here on Earth||Enja|
|Philly Joe Jones Dameronia||Look, Stop and Listen Featuring Johnny Griffin||Uptown|
|David Kikoski||Almost Twilight||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Yuko Kimora||A Beautiful Friendship|
|Ryan Kisor||The Dream||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Marilyn Lerner||Birds Are Returning||Jazz Focus|
|Achilles Liarmakopolous||Trombone Atrivedo ||Opening Day|
|Gene Ludwig||The Groove ORGANization||Blues Leaf|
|Joe Magnarelli||Mr. Mags||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Virgina Mayhew||Nini Green||Chiaroscuro|
|Virginia Mayhew||No Walls||Foxhaven|
|Virginia Mayhew||Sandan Shuffle||Renma|
|Virginia Mayhew||A Simple Thank You||Renma|
|Virginia Mayhew|| Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years||Renma|
|Dave Panichi||Blues for McCoy||Spirit Song|
|Roberta Piket||Solo||Thirteenth Note|
|Roberta Piket||One for Marian||Thirteenth Note|
|Valery Ponomarev||Beyond the Obvious||Reservoir Music|
|Valery Ponomarev||The Messenger||Reservoir Music|
|Valery Ponomarev||Our Father Who Art Blakey||Zoho|
|Benny Powell||Coast 2 Coast||Faith|
|Benny Powell||The Gift of Love||Faith|
|Melvin Rhyne||Kojo||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Claudio Roditi||Double Standards||Reservoir Music|
|Claudio Roditi||Free Wheelin'||Reservoir Music|
|Adonis Rose||The Unity||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jim Rotundi||Reverence||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Harvie S & Sheryl Bailey||Plucky Strum||Whaling City Sound|
|Horace Silver||Paris Blues||Pablo|
|Gary Smulyan||High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine||Reservoir Music|
|Doug Talley||Night and Day||Serpentine|
|Uptown Five||Uptown Swing||Harlem|
|Various Artists: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins & John Coltrane||The Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High Priests||Prestige|
|Ceder Walton, Ron Carter & Billy Higgins: Sweet Basil Trio||St. Thomas||Evidence Music|
|Walt Weiskopf||Anytown||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Steve Weist||Out of the New||Arabesque|
|Deborah Weisz||Breaking Up, Breaking Out||Vah Wa|
|Rich Willey||Gone with the Piggies||Consolidated Artists Productions|