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La Chanson Française

A flavorful bonbon that is sure to gladden the heart and soul of any Francophile as well as those who simply appreciate melodious, swinging and well-played contemporary jazz.” (Jack Bowers, All About Jazz)
There’s something about the music of France that strikes a romantic chord in almost every heart. Even when writing about anguish, loneliness and ennui, the French have a way of encasing those emotions within beguiling melodies that somehow make the pain seem more endurable. It is this singular blend of gallic romance and sorrow that animates La Chanson Francaise, the newest CD by Virginia-based composer / arranger Terry Vosbein who leads an earnest and well-spoken nonet (also his ally of choice on an earlier album, Come and Get It!)

It was while living and working in Paris that Vosbein warmly embraced the music of that city and decided to recast some of its more seductive melodies into a jazz framework to further enhance their intrinsic charm. After narrowing a long list of choices to an even dozen, Vosbein added a theme of his own, “Dans le Vieux Montmartre,” to make it a baker’s dozen. Several of the melodies will be familiar to American listeners, as they were transposed into such popular songs as “What Now My Love,” “Beyond the Sea,” “I Wish You Love,” “Under Paris Skies” and of course “La Vie en Rose,” a mega-hit in this country for French songstress Edith Piaf in 1947.

Besides Piaf, there are songs here by Charles Trenet (four), Jacques Brel (two), Michel Emer and Charles Aznavour —but none by Michel Legrand. Trenet wrote “La Mer” (Beyond the Sea) and “Qe Reste t’il de Nos Amours” (I Wish You Love), Hubert Giraud and Jean Drejac “Sous le Ciel de Paris” (Under Paris Skies), which lowers the album’s curtain. The ensemble opens with a swashbuckling rendition of Gilbert Becaud / Pierre Leroyer’s “Et Maintenant” (What Now My Love), underlined by Rusty Holloway‘s resonant bass, which sets the tone for everything to follow. And what follows is by and large delightful, thanks to Vosbein’s impressive charts and ardent blowing by the nonet, each of whose members is a productive soloist as well as a tenacious team player. As for swinging, it doesn’t come much heavier than on “Sous le Ciel de Paris,” Brel’s “Quand on n’a Que L’Amour” or Trenet’s “Menilmontant” and “La Mer.” There’s a Kai and J.J. vibe to Emer’s “L’accordeoniste,” a Basie feel to Charles Dumont’s “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien” (with ex-Army Blues stalwart Tony Nalker deftly shadowing the Count).

In closing, a word about the recording itself. Although no date or venue is given, the album was more than likely taped during a concert at Vosbein’s home base, the College of William & Mary. While one might assume that playing so well in front of an audience would be a source of pride, not embarrassment, it seems that every effort has been made (not always successfully) to erase applause after solos, and none is heard after any of the selections. Why? That’s a good question, as the performance is about as error-free as might have been the case in a studio. So why try and hide the fact that it was live? We may never know. Be that as it may, La Chanson Francaise is a flavorful bonbon that is sure to gladden the heart and soul of any Francophile as well as those who simply appreciate melodious, swinging and well-played contemporary jazz.

Track Listing: En Maintenant; Quand on n’a Que L’Amour; L’Accordeoniste; Menilmontant; La Vie en Rose; La Boheme; Dans le Vieux Montmartre; Ne me Quitte Pas; La Mer; Que Reste t’il de Nos Amours; Boum; Non, Je ne Regrette Rien; Sous le Ciel de Paris.

Personnel: Terry Vosbein: conductor, composer, arranger; Chris Magee: trumpet; Rich Willey: trumpet; Tom Artwick: alto sax; Don Aliquo: baritone sax; Tom Lundberg: trombone; Rick Simerly: trombone; Tony Nalker: piano; Rusty Holloway: bass; Keith Brown: drums.
“A wonderful bon mot.” (George W. Harris, Jazz Weekly)
TRES BON…Terry Vosbein: La Chanson Francaise

Here’s a clever idea; take some French melodies made famous by the likes of Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and others, and swing them with a hip jazz combo. The horn heavy team of Tom Artwick/as, Don Aliquo/bari, Chris Magee/tp, Rich Willey/tp, Tom Lundberg/tb and Rick Simerly/tb create a West Coast cool and warm interpretation of pieces like “Beyond The Sea (La Mer)” and “La Vie En Rose” with a toe tapping rhythm section of Tony Nalker/p, Rusty Hollowyay/b and Keith Brown/dr. You get a hip bass line on “Et Maintenant (What Now My Love)” and some gliding reeds that flow around Nalker’s piano on “Quand On N’A Que L’Amour.” Vintage boogie woogie and swing brings out the Lindy Hoppers on “Boum” while a chamber feel of the muted horns create Monet impressions during “La Vie En Rose.” Aliquo’s bari is dreamy on “LAccordeoniste” and bops on “Dans Le Vieux Montmartre.” A wonderful bon mot.

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"An inspired album with charts that are instantly accessible, swing like mad, and demand to be heard again and again” (Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz)
TERRY VOSBEIN is a Professor in the Music Department at Washington and Lee University who is a talented and wonderfully creative arranger. He has produced several interesting albums over the last decade, including one of the best big band albums in recent years, Fleet Street, a big band jazz interpretation of the music from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. For La Chanson Française (Max Frank Music – 006), he has turned his attention to popular songs that were written by French composers, many of which have had widespread popularity on these shores, such as “If You Go Away,” “La vie en rose,” “What Now My Love,” “I Wish You Love,” “Beyond the Sea” and “Under Paris Skies.” Others will be familiar to fans of French singers like Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet and Charles Aznavour, tunes like “L’Accordeoniste,” “La Bohème,” and “Non, je ne regrette rien.” Vosbein, who has spent much time living in Paris, has also included a delightful original piece inspired by his time in the City of Light, “Dans le vieux Montmartre.” For this collection, he has opted to write charts for a mid-sized group, a nonet comprising Tom Artwick on alto sax, Don Aliquo on baritone sax, Chris Magee and Rich Wiley on trumpets, Tom Lundberg and Rick Simerly on trombones, Tony Nalker on piano, Rusty Holloway on bass and Keith Brown on drums. The group has the feeling of a larger band, with the freedom of a small group where each of the players is given ample solo space. Vosbein has created an inspired album with charts that are instantly accessible, swing like mad, and demand to be heard again and again.
“Listeners who love these timeless French melodies and the sound of a swinging big band will find much to enjoy.” (Scott Yanow)
Throughout his career, Terry Vosbein has been a major composer, arranger, and educator. His past recording projects have included a suite for a nonet (Come and Get It), Progressive Jazz 2009 which features the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, arrangements of the music from Sweeney Todd (Fleet Street), a collection of Yuletide favorites for violin and piano (Stradivarius Christmas) and jazz interpretations of movie music (Jazz Scenes).
 
Inspired by the time he has spent in Paris, La Chanson Française is comprised of a dozen songs that originated from France plus one of his own originals, “Dans le vieux Montmartre.” Vosbein utilizes a small-big band comprised of two trumpets, two trombones, alto and baritone saxophones, and a rhythm section. His arrangements often make the nonet sound like a big band.
 
The songs, which were made famous by such luminaries as Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour and Charles Trenet, are full of rich melodies. The arrangements retain the themes but place them in the context of a modern and swinging jazz group. Along the way, each of the musicians (other than drummer Keith Brown) has opportunities to solo, often interacting with the full ensemble.
 
“El Maintenant (What Now My Love)” begins the program by having the melody stated by bassist Rusty Holloway while the horns play punctuations behind him. Holloway and trombonist Tom Lundberg are featured throughout the piece. “Quand on n’a que l’amour (If We Only Have Love)” has some spirited ensembles and fine spots for trumpeter Chris Magee and baritonist Don Aliquo. “L’Accordeoniste” starts out slow and somber, almost like a funeral hymn, before its mood and tempo completely change. It becomes a light-hearted romp for trombonists Lundberg and Rick Simerly that is a little reminiscent of J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding in the 1950s.
 
The familiar melody of “Ménilmontant” is taken uptempo with plenty of infectious ensembles and excellent solos from baritonist Aliquo (who recalls Gerry Mulligan at times), trumpeter Rich Willey and altoist Tom Artwick. One of the most famous of all French melodies, “La Vie En Rose,” is given a moody but respectful treatment. Trombonist Lundberg plays the classic melody with a great deal of warmth (check out the inventive harmonies behind him) before taking a melodic improvisation. “La Bohème” follows up with some appealing ensembles and a bit of Aliquo’s baritone.
 
Terry Vosbein’s “Dans le vieux Montmartre” is an exciting piece that swings hard and is a modern day classic that fits in perfectly with the vintage material. The ballad “Ne me quitte pas (If You Go Away)” is performed as an alto feature for Tom Artwick who caresses the beautiful melody. “La Mer (Beyond the Sea),” which was made famous by Bobby Darin, is transformed into a feature for the two trumpeters who play memorable harmonies, take heated solos, trade off, and interact with each other.
 
“Que reste t’il de nos amours (I Wish You Love)” puts the spotlight on pianist Tony Nalker with commentary from the ensembles. The playful theme of “Boum” is catchy. All six horn players and pianist Nalker get to make short statements. “Non, je ne regrette rien” is given a Count Basie feel in both the arrangement and some of the playing of Nalker. La Chanson Française concludes perfectly with a joyful treatment of “Sous le ciel de Paris (Under Paris Skies).”
 
Listeners who love these timeless French melodies and the sound of a swinging big band will find much to enjoy on Terry Vosbein’s La Chanson Française.
 
Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books including Swing, The Jazz Singers, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76

Progressive Jazz 2009

“Progressive Jazz in the best sense of the word.” (Jack Bowers, All About Jazz)
When encountering an album whose title is Progressive Jazz 2009, one question that naturally arises is, exactly how “progressive”? The answer, in this case, is progressive enough to enliven and inspire, but not progressive enough to aggravate or perplex. Composer / arranger / conductor Terry Vosbein has reinvigorated a number of heretofore overlooked themes from the creative world of Stan Kenton, added several of his own, and placed them in the capable hands of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra for a concert performance that shines from start to finish.

Aside from Vosbein's, the songs were arranged either by Pete Rugolo (five) or Bob Graettinger (two). Rugolo composed “Artistry in Gillespie,” “Rhythms at Work” and “Hambeth,” Graettinger “Cuban Pastorale.” It's hard to comprehend why any of them isn't better known or performed more often. Vosbein's five works are no less engaging, from the high-flying “Crows in Tuxedos” to the sonorous “Real Princess,” which emphatically rings down the curtain. Vosbein also wrote “Jumping Monkey,” “Ahora es el Tiempo” (Where Is the Tempo) and “Odin's Dream” and arranged Stephen Sondheim's “Johanna,” while Rugolo arranged Claude Debussy's “Afternoon of a Faun” and the standard “Don't Blame Me,” Graettinger “Walkin' by the River.”

As noted, this is a concert performance, and while the sound and balance are by and large admirable, there are some brief passages on “Crows” wherein the trombones seem disconnected from the rest of the orchestra, almost as if playing in another room.* Otherwise, everything is keen and peachy--which also describes the orchestra and its soloists. For a regional ensemble, the KJO is remarkably accomplished, and takes to these demanding charts like ducks to water. The soloists pull their weight as well. Alto Doug Rinaldo is showcased on “Faun,” trumpeter Michael Spirko on “Cuban Pastorale,” trombonists Don Hough and Tom Lundberg on “Hambeth” and “Odin's Dream,” respectively, with other convincing statements by saxophonists David King, Alan Wyatt and Tom Johnson; trumpeters Rich Willey, Vance Thompson and Stewart Cox; trombonist Bill Huber, guitarist Mark Bolin, pianist Bill Swann, bassist Rusty Holloway and drummer Keith Brown.

This is Progressive Jazz in the best sense of the word: advanced, forward-moving and enlightening but in no wise pretentious or self-absorbed. Vosbein has chosen the music with care, and the KJO has brought it to life with dexterity and elegance. An admirable performance from end to end.


* Note from producer: This reviewer had a pre-release copy of the recording. Due to his keen ear, we were able to correct this audio glitch in the final version.
“A superb sampling of progressive big band jazz.” (Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz)
TERRY VOSBEIN is an accomplished composer in both the fields of jazz and classical music. He is also a music educator, currently teaching music composition at Washington and Lee University. He has had a particular fascination with the music played by the Stan Kenton Orchestra, particularly the arrangements that were in the Kenton book during the versions of the band that were labeled the Progressive Jazz Orchestra and the Innovations Orchestra. Two of the arrangers who contributed many of the charts to Kenton during this period were Pete Rugolo and Bob Graettinger. Vosbein spent three months of research in the Kenton archives at North Texas University research, and uncovered many arrangements by these and other arrangers that were never commercially recorded by Kenton, and, in some cases, may never have been performed by the band.

Progressive Jazz 2009 (Max Frank Music - 001) is taken from a January 2009 concert by the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra conducted by Vosbein, and presents seven of the unrecorded Kenton pieces, five by Rugolo and two by Graettinger, along with five original pieces by Vosbein plus his stunningly beautiful arrangement of “Johanna” from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. This is a superb sampling of progressive big band jazz, wonderfully programmed by Vosbein, and executed impeccably by the KJO. Rugolo and Graettinger, particularly the latter, wrote arrangements that were somewhat out for most listeners’ tastes.

The pieces that Vosbein chose for inclusion on this program are all quite accessible, but still show a lot of the out-of-the-box thinking that made their arrangements so unique and special. The Rugolo charts are “Artistry in Gillespie,” an boppish ode to the trumpet master with just a hint of Latin influence, Debussy’s impressionistic “Afternoon of a Faun,” “Rhythms at Work,” a piece that presages some of the Rugolo selections on his 1950s Mercury albums, a lovely take on “Don’t Blame Me,” and “Hambeth,” a piece that sounds like it could fit into the score of a film drama. Graettinger is represented by “Cuban Pastorale,” a somewhat nervous view of that island that makes the title seem ironic, and “Walkin’ By the River,” about as straight forward an arrangement as one will find from Graettinger.

Vosbein’s original material perfectly complements the rest of the program. “Crows in Tuxedos” and “Jumping Monkey” are both playful pieces that would have been perfect additions to the Kenton book, as would the Latin hued “Ahora es el Tiempo,” the perfectly titled “Odin’s Dream,” and “The Real Princess,” the concert closer that serves as a nice punctuation mark for an impressive musical feast.
“A masterful and emotionally rewarding tribute.” (Owen Cordle, Charlotte News Observer)
"Progressive Jazz 2009,” produced by composer and Washington and Lee University music professor Terry Vosbein, celebrates the late bandleader Stan Kenton's self-described "progressive jazz" period of 1947 and '48. By employing Pete Rugolo as chief arranger, and to a lesser extent, arranger Bob Graettinger, Kenton at the time began to emphasize concert jazz over dance band jazz.

Vosbein uses both familiar and rarely heard Rugolo and Graettinger charts from this period plus several of his own arrangements on this album, recorded earlier this year in concert at the University of Tennessee. The excellent Knoxville Jazz Orchestra conveys the excitement and drama of a Kenton road band.

The group's sound is rich in trombones, true to the grandeur of the Kenton identity. Vosbein's writing for the occasion is steeped in the Rugolo tradition, with unison saxophone lines breaking into full-depth harmony while the brass swap rhythmic figures and counterlines and build to giant climaxes. Bongo drums appear at times, echoing the Kenton flair for Cuban rhythms.

Critics charged Kenton with a weighty, non-swinging sound, claims that have subsided with time and the multiple rhythmic directions of jazz today. There are plenty of examples of swing throughout this album (Vosbein's "Crows in Tuxedos," Rugolo's "Artistry in Gillespie," et. al.) and many thrilling examples of the harmonic scope that only Kenton's band could produce in its day. A masterful and emotionally rewarding tribute.
“Vosbein's own contributions would have easily qualified for acceptance into the Kenton library.” (Robert J. Robbins, All About Jazz)
Over the last few years, Terry Vosbein, a Professor of Music at Washington and Lee University and a classically-trained composer of symphonies, operas, and chamber music (not to mention a former bassist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra), has been exhaustively researching the unrecorded scores from the Stan Kenton Collection at the University of North Texas. Now, thanks to his meticulous research, Vosbein leads the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra in the debut recordings of four originals and two arrangements by Kenton's eminence grise Pete Rugolo plus two charts from the iconoclastic composer/arranger Bob Graettinger, all dating from the period 1946-48. Moreover, Vosbein, an alumnus of the Kenton clinics during the Seventies, has added five of his own Kenton-inspired compositions plus a long-overdue Kentonian setting of a Stephen Sondheim classic.

Rugolo's 1948 “Artistry In Gillespie,” an excursion into bebop a la his “Capitol Punishment” recorded the previous year, launches the CD with the force of a rocket, with David King, Don Hough, Stewart Cox, and Rusty Holloway respectively re-creating the solo roles of Kentonians Art Pepper, Milt Bernhart, Ray Wetzel, and Eddie Safranski. The Rugolo treatment of Claude Debussy's “Afternoon of a Faun,” which dates from 1946 when the opus was about 55 years old, retains the impressionistic atmosphere of the original while transporting it into the realm of Kentonia via Doug Rinaldo's alto. “Don't Blame Me” is a typical Kenton ballad arrangement from the Forties, opening with the piano of Bill Swann, then building to a climax featuring Vance Thompson's trumpet, and finally settling to a quiet coda following Holloway's bass interlude. Hough re-traces the solo path of Eddie Bert on Rugolo's “Hambeth,” one of the few opuses in the Kenton repertoire with a Shakespearean title.

“Cuban Pastorale,” by the then 24-year-old Graettinger, is an atonal visit to Havana which avoided recording due to a commercial ban imposed by the American Federation of Musicians throughout most of 1948, featuring trumpeter Rich Willey. Graettinger and Rugolo appear to have traded roles on their respective charts of “Walkin' by the River” and “Rhythms at Work,” with each arrangement remarkably resembling the style of the opposite arranger (i.e. Graettinger's writing sounding more like Rugolo and vice versa).

Vosbein's own contributions would have easily qualified for acceptance into the Kenton library, and two of them (his arrangement of “Johanna” from Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, which spotlights the trombone section in a most Kentonian mode, and the original “Ahora es el Tiempo”) merit inclusion in the repertoire of Mike Vax's Kenton Alumni band. In his writing, Vosbein interweaves the influences of Rugolo, Graettinger, and such other distinguished Kenton arrangers as Bill Holman, Ken Hanna, Bill Russo, and Willie Maiden.

One additional bonus: the CD package displays a rare 1948 color rehearsal photo showing Kenton, Rugolo, and Graettinger, along with saxophonists Bob Gioga and Bob Cooper with their backs to the camera, courtesy of the UNT Kenton Collection.

Track Listing: Artistry In Gillespie; Afternoon of a Faun; Cuban Pastorale; Walkin' by the River; Rhythms at Work; Don't Blame Me; Jumping Monkey; Johanna; Hambeth; Ahora es el Tiempo; Odin's Dream; The Real Princess.

Personnel: Terry Vosbein, Conductor, composer, and arranger; Doug Rinaldo, alto sax, flute; David King, alto sax, flute; Alan Wyatt, tenor sax; Will Boyd, tenor sax; Tom Johnson, baritone sax; Stewart Cox, trumpet; Michael Spirko, trumpet; Tom Fox, trumpet; Rich Willey, trumpet; Vance Thompson, trumpet; Tom Lundberg, trombone; Don Hough, trombone; Nate Malone, trombone; Bill Huber, trombone; Brad McDougall, bass trombone; Bill Swann, piano; Rusty Holloway, bass; Keith Brown, drums; Mark Boling, guitar; David Knight, Latin percussion.

Fleet Street

“A stunner.” (Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal)

"Fleet Street" is another stunner, the work of Mr. Vosbein, a composer and arranger who teaches composition at Washington and Lee University and is far from a household name. This full-length instrumental treatment of "Sweeney Todd," Mr. Sondheim's 1979 masterpiece, is not only a tribute to Mr. Sondheim, but also to bandleader Stan Kenton; the overall groove and tonal colors of "Fleet Street" owe much to Kenton's classic 1962 jazz version of "West Side Story" (with lyrics also by Mr. Sondheim).

Like Kenton's arranger Johnny Richards, Mr. Vosbein relies heavily on deeply voiced trombones to paint a dark, somber portrait—highly suited to a heavy melodrama about serial killing and cannibalism. But while "West Side Story" is a dance-oriented show with lots of songs in tempo, Mr. Vosbein has to look hard for lighter moments in the "Sweeney Todd" score, and he makes the most of them. "Green Finch aand Linnet Bird" is almost a throwaway on stage, but it now becomes a major part of "Fleet Street," as do the two versions of "Johanna" (reflecting the way it's sung in Act 1, as a ballad, and Act 2, much more upbeat).

“An album of enormous professional maturity and sensitivity..” (Marc Myers, JazzWax.com)

Remember when jazz orchestras skillfully adapted the music of Broadway musicals? Notable examples from the '50s and '60s include Les Brown's Dance to South Pacific (1958) and Stan Kenton's West Side Story (1961). Rather than send up cute pop caricatures, the best arrangers crafted interpretations that often were bigger, bolder and more dynamic than the originals. Add Terry Vosbein's new Fleet Street (MFM) to the list.

Terry who? Terry is a composer, arranger and educator at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, VA. On Fleet Street, Terry conducts the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra through his arrangements of Stephen Sondheim's music from Sweeney Todd. The result is superb reworking and a throwback to an age of introspective interpretation.

Even if you aren't completely familiar with Sweeney Todd, this album radiates with writing intelligence. At times the arrangements feel like brooding Johnny Richards charts for Kenton. At other times there are swinging shades of Bill Holman. And at every turn, the music captivates you with its dramatic, jazzy feel and fine understanding of how to improve on a brilliant original.

The immediate beauty of Fleet Street is that it never bogs down in somber neo-classical configurations. From the start, Fleet Street swings, zig-zags and constantly catches your ear before shifting into new territory. And it's big. There are 20 musicians here—five saxes, five trombones, five trumpets and a five-piece rhythm section.

As Vosbein told an interviewer:

“From the moment that I first saw Sweeney Todd in 1979, when it was brand new, I thought it was the most amazing thing that I had ever seen on every level—the performance, the writing, the dialogue. I've always loved it.

“When I was working on my previous CD for the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra (Progressive Jazz 2009), I had finished the music and had some time. So I wrote an arrangement of Johanna, one of the pieces from Sweeney Todd, and we added that piece to the album. Maybe I always knew I was going to come back to it, but I thought once the first piece was completed that I should continue and do the whole show."

Born in New Orleans, Vosbein has composed works for orchestra, wind ensemble, various chamber ensembles and choir, and he has written works for jazz bands of all sizes. Fleet Street is an album of enormous professional maturity and sensitivity.

Sample Pretty Women, Wait, The Ballad of Sweeney Todd (Reprise) and Not While I'm Around. An album like this would be impossible if Vosbein didn't have enormous reverence for Stan Kenton and his arrangers. To pull off such a project, you need a sense of grandeur, restraint, a love for beautiful melody lines, respect for those lines and an ear that has done an enormous amount of careful listening.

Most of all, you need to know your big-band audience. And Vosbein does.

“One of the most exciting new big band albums of recent years.” (Pat Goodhope, International Association of Jazz Record Collectors Journal)
What a great joy it is to pick up a completely unknown CD, knowing little or nothing about its makers or its contents and then loving what you hear. Aren't we all excited by those occasional moments? It is one of the many joys of this lifelong pursuit of more and more music. As cynical as I know I can be going in before that first sound emerges from the speakers, it is so thrilling on those rare occasions to be happily surprised. That is what happened to me with this exceptional album. It has to be counted as one of the most exciting new big band albums of recent years.

For some background, New Orleans born Terry Vosbein has been a music composition teacher at Washington and Lee University who also happens to be a world class classical composer with numerous commissions to his credit from various organizations such as the Cleveland Symphony. Having played music of all kinds as a bassist, he has also composed and arranged for jazz bands of all configurations.

Vosbein's work here in writing arrangements from the score of Steven Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street for the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra is sensational. Fresh, modern and original, there seem to be no overwhelming writing influences exhibited in his orchestrations short of a Kenton-like affection for trombones. Certainly no complaints with that! This set swings fiercely at times and purrs quietly at times, surging and swelling to blazing shout choruses with all the roar of any full throated big band. This outfit is simply on fire. Considering the history of album length jazz interpretations of the major Broadway shows, much of Sondheim's post "Gypsy" work seems to have been forgotten by the jazz world. Vosbein and the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra resolve that here in a dramatic way. (As a side note, there is another marvelous new Sondheim tribute album out by pianist Billy Mays and bassist Tommy Cecil called Side By Side Sondheim Duos. Get your- self this one too.)

The writing on this set is busy, no question, but always interesting and yet there is still plenty of room for the soloists to breath. This Knoxville Jazz Orchestra plays it all with such a visceral joy that there is no doubt the musicians love to play these charts. And wouldn't this program be something to see presented live? My guess is that it would have to be that much more scintillating in person than on record. It grabs you in the overwhelming way a great big band can, carrying you away with that roar of sound and emotion.

Terry Vosbein and the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra may be little known outside of Tennessee but this album demands to be heard. Track this CD down, fire up your speakers and wail. The remaining question is whether Stephen Sondheim has heard this album and what he thinks of it.
“The voice that emerges is unmistakably Vosbein's, placing a fresh and indelible big-band stamp on Sondheim's cogent narrative.” (Jack Bowers, All About Jazz)
Arranger Terry Vosbein has a knack for taking themes that may at first glance seem unsuitable for a big band, especially in a jazz context, and making them work quite well within that framework. On Fleet Street, Vosbein addresses music composed by Stephen Sondheim for the blood-soaked Broadway musical Sweeney Todd and, ably abetted by the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, transforms it into a tasteful medley that gladdens the ear and enlivens the spirit in the best tradition of contemporary orchestration.

Although it is presumptuous to draw any firm conclusions, this is one possible direction in which big-band trend-setter Stan Kenton might have gone had he remained alive to carry the torch into the twenty-first century. Clearly, there are echoes of the Kenton style and sound in Vosbein's strong and voluptuous charts, which accentuate the ensemble while making room for perceptive solo statements by its various members. Throughout, Vosbein remains true to Sondheim's vision, never downplaying the composer's precocity or melodicism in favor of his own scenario. Having said that, the voice that emerges is unmistakably Vosbein's, placing a fresh and indelible big-band stamp on Sondheim's cogent narrative.

Even though a handful of his songs ("Maria," "Send in the Clowns," "I Feel Pretty," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "Tonight") have enjoyed a measure of popular success, Sondheim writes for the theatre, not for a wider audience, and so most of the songs here may be unfamiliar. Nevertheless, they are consistently charming, and at least one—"Not While I'm Around"—encompasses a melody that beguiles the mind long after it has been heard. The others are simply Sondheim, and for most champions of superior music no more need be said, save that Vosbein not only amplifies their most desirable qualities but also makes sure they swing.

As for the KJO, it's about as proficient a regional ensemble as could be hoped for, diving earnestly into Vosbein's multi-layered charts and bestowing on each one a special warmth and vitality. Brass and reeds are snug and resourceful, the rhythm section (anchored by drummer Keith Brown) alert and flexible. Soloists too are a cut above the norm. Trombonist Tom Lundberg is showcased on the opener, "The Barber and His Wife," trumpeters Rich Willey and Stewart Cox on "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" and "By the Sea," respectively. Others who elevate the discourse include Brown, trumpeter Michael Wyatt, altos David King and Doug Rinaldo, tenors Alan Wyatt and Will Boyd, trombonist Don Hough, pianist Ben Dockery and percussionist David Knight.

In his earlier album with the KJO, Progressive Jazz 2009, Vosbein confronted music by Bob Graettinger, Pete Rugolo, Claude Debussy and even one song repeated here (Sondheim's "Johanna"). He showed his prowess on that occasion, and has done so again. This is Sondheim neatly redesigned and tailor-made for big-band enthusiasts.
“Easily merits a place alongside Kenton’s West Side Story, and is most certainly worthy of Grammy consideration.” (Robert J. Robbins, Big Band International Magazine)
In 1979, Stephen Sondheim’s epic musical thriller Sweeney Todd (The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) premiered on Broadway and quickly scooped up eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. About six months after the production’s opening, legendary bandleader Stan Kenton passed away in Los Angeles. Among the audiences during Sweeney’s initial Broadway run was an aspiring 25-year-old composer (and bassist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra) named Terry Vosbein, who was also a veteran of numerous Kenton clinics and summer Jazz Orchestra In Residence programs. 

Thirty-two years later, Vosbein, now a Professor of Music at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA, has injected his love for Sondheim’s monumental score into his lifelong admiration for Kenton, and the result is a near-perfect synthesis of two musical geniuses (Kenton’s only previous association with Sondheim, aside from the former’s Grammy-winning 1961 adaptation of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story for which the young Sondheim had provided the lyrics, was Dave Barduhn’s arrangement of “Send In the Clowns”, from A Little Night Music, on the Kenton ’76 album). 

From the opening trombone choir on “The Barber and his Wife” to the final explosion of Keith Brown’s drums, the Kenton aura is steadfastly maintained, reflecting the influences of such iconoclastic Kenton-affiliated composer/arrangers as Pete Rugolo, Bill Russo, Bob Graettinger, Gene Roland, Johnny Richards, Bill Holman, Dee Barton, and Willie Maiden.

Foremost among the band’s soloists is trombonist Tom Lundberg, who represents a continuation of Kenton’s lead/solo trombone legacy epitomized by Kai Winding, Milt Bernhart, Bob “Fitz” Fitzpatrick, and Dick Shearer, and whether quoting Sondheim’s “archrival” Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber (“King Herod’s Song” from Jesus Christ Superstar) in “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” or joining section mate Don Hough in a duet on “My Friends” (a paean originally sung by Todd to his long-lost razors in the production!), Lundberg is consistently outstanding.

Vosbein’s arrangements of “Johanna” and “Not While I’m Around” faithfully echo the Kenton ballad tradition, with solos from Lundberg, Hough, and lead trumpeter Stewart Cox on the former, and pianist Ben Dockery, lead altoist Doug Rinaldo, trumpeter Mike Wyatt, and (of course) Lundberg on the latter.  Other soloists include tenor saxists Alan Wyatt (“The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”, “Pretty Women”), altoist Dave King, trumpeter Rich Willey (“Green Finch and Linnet Bird”), and Latin percussionist David Knight.

In my book, Fleet Street easily merits a place alongside Kenton’s West Side Story, which was recorded a half-century earlier, and is most certainly worthy of Grammy consideration.

Jazz Scenes

“A sparkling album, full of life and exceptionally well executed and recorded.” (Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz)
I was unfamiliar with the name TOM ARTWICK until a CD titled Jazz Scenes: Music from the Movies (Max Frank Music – 005) arrived in the mail. It was sent to me by the disc’s producer Terry Vosbein, a colleague of Artwick on the music faculty at Washington and Lee University. The music on the album was recorded at the university’s John and Anne Wilson Hall in March of this year. Accompanying Artwick, who plays alto sax, tenor sax and flute, are trumpeter John D’Earth, pianist Bob Hallahan, bassist Paul Langosch and drummer Robert Jospé. The program is comprised of twelve compositions written for films. They open with the lovely Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley song “Pure Imagination” from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and conclude with “Samba de Orfeu,” a Luiz Bonfa composition for Black Orpheus. Along the way they visit tunes by the likes of Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand. Artwick is a terrific player on all of his instruments. D’Earth has a superb tone. Hallahan is an exceptional pianist whether comping or soloing. Langosch, who spent many years as the bassist for Tony Bennett, is consistently strong, and Jospé is a kicking good drummer. Put it all together, and you have a sparkling album, full of life and exceptionally well executed and recorded.
“A charming concert, well-recorded and commendably performed.” (Jack Bowers, All About Jazz)
A pleasant album of themes from various movies, seamlessly performed for an appreciative audience by five able musicians whose earnest labors affirm that there is an abundance of talented artists in this country whose endeavors pass largely unnoticed unless concerts such as this one are recorded and released so that a wider audience is able to hear and appreciate their proficiency.

Saxophonist Tom Artwick leads the quintet, and he is a pleasure to hear on alto sax, tenor or flute, as are his teammates, trumpeter John D’Earth, bassist Paul Langosch, drummer Robert Jospe and especially pianist Bob Hallahan, as engaging an accompanist as he is a soloist. Although the album notes don't say so, all of these gentlemen live and teach in Virginia, Hallahan at James Madison University, Langosch at Virginia Tech, D'Earth and Jospe at the University of Virginia, Artwick at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, where the concert was taped in March 2013.

In spite of a few curious choices ("The Odd Couple," "In the Heat of the Night"), Artwick and Co. make everything work, thanks in large measure to splendid charts and admirable blowing by all hands. Langosch introduces "Heat" with a minute-long unaccompanied bass solo, leading to the tune's bluesy core, epitomized first by Artwick's tenor and D'Earth's trumpet, then by Hallahan's evocative piano. Artwick opens the concert on alto ("Pure Imagination," "Alfie") and returns to it on Michel Legrand's "Chanson des Jumelles" and "Chanson de Maxence," both from the film Les Damoiselles de Rochefort. He plays flute on Mack Gordon / Harry Warren's lovely "I Wish I Knew," Quincy Jones' "Happy Feet" and Luiz Bonfa's "Samba de Orfeu," flute and tenor on "Charade," tenor elsewhere, in every instance deftly supported by D'Earth's assertive trumpet.

"Alfie," composed by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, is followed by Sonny Rollins' "Alfie's Theme," on which Atwick plays tenor, as he does on "The Odd Couple," "Heat of the Night" and Henry Mancini's well-known theme from "The Pink Panther." Hallahan is delightful on "Happy Feet," as he is whenever given room to solo. As for Langosch and Jospe, they work well with Hallahan to comprise a first-class rhythm section.

Jazz Scenes is a charming concert, well-recorded and commendably performed by musicians who may be relatively unknown but are well-schooled professionals (no pun intended) who know how to brighten a song.

Track Listing: Pure Imagination; Alfie; Alfie’s Theme; I Wish I Knew; The Odd Couple; Charade; Chanson des Jumelles; Chanson de Maxence; Happy Feet; In the Heat of the Night; The Pink Panther Theme; Samba de Orfeu.

Personnel: Tom Artwick: saxophones, flute; John D’Earth: trumpet; Bob Hallahan: piano; Paul Langosch: bass; Robert Jospe: drums.

Record Label: Max Frank Music

Stradivarius Christmas

“A frequent visitor to our CD player this Christmas season.” (Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz)
Last month’s column covered the new Christmas CDs that sounded good to me, and I had not planned on covering any more, but then along came Stradivarius Christmas (Max Frank Music – 004), and it is too good to put off until next year. Violinist JASPER WOOD and pianist DAVID RILEY perform 16 tracks of seasonal music arranged by TERRY VOSBEIN. The album is an interesting stylistic mixture of jazz and classical influences. The program has some traditional carols like “Away in a Manger” combined with “Silent Night,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear;” a sampling of lesser heard carols such as “Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella” and “Fum Fum Fum;” a few songs more seasonal than Christmas, “Jingle Bells” and “Auld Lang Syne;” and a sprightly original piece by Vosbein, “A Christmas Rag.” Wood and Riley are a well matched pair, and Vosbein’s musical settings are original and fun. Stradivarius Christmas will be a frequent visitor to our CD player this Christmas season.
“Perhaps the most engaging of this year’s classically oriented holiday.” (Ronni Reich, The [New Jersey] Star-Ledger)
Perhaps the most engaging of this year’s classically oriented holiday recordings is “Stradivarius Christmas.” Starting with a sonata setup — Jasper Wood on violin, David Riley on piano — Terry Vosbein’s settings fancifully spin romantic riffs and jazz forms out of carols and medleys in a way that keeps the listener guessing. The duo open with a lively ragtime feel, chugging pizzicato beat and virtuoso digressions for “O Tannenbaum.” Other highlights include a blues rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman” and a bossa nova take on “O Little Town of Bethlehem” with a feisty interlude between verses and commanding high whistling violin. A disappointment is “Jingle Bells,” probably never meant to be a ballad.
“Did I mention the playing is first-rate?” (Gerry “Dr. Christmas” Grzyb, Appleton Post Crescent)
A Christmas violin-piano duo CD could be an unimaginative runthrough of familiar carols. Or it could be something completely different, as Jasper Wood and David Riley prove on “Stradivarius Christmas.” Terry Vosbein’s settings of over a dozen carols are as fresh as a newly-cut evergreen. The little riff from “Last Christmas” opens “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Beethoven’s moonlight shines on the “Three Kings,” and every tune sounds both strangely familiar and strangely not, while remaining entirely musical. And did I mention the playing is first-rate?

Chartreuse

“A well-blended recital from a refined Canadian violinist.” (Julian Haylock, The Strad)
Mozart's refined sound worlds demand absolutely clarity of technique and purity of sound, combined with interpretative warmth, nobilmente elegance and cantabile poise, without the slightest hint of self-consciousness. Hats off then to Jasper Wood, who not only possesses a tonally refined sound ideal for Mozart, but also a Szeryng-like ability to inflect phrases subtly with an exquisite range of vibrato and bow strokes while retaining absolute intonational security. With David Riley providing exemplary support, enhanced by a luminescent ambience, this is inspired music-making that provides the greatest pleasure simply because of the sound it makes.

No less responsive and treasurable is a reading of the Debussy Sonata that avoids any hint of concert hall projection, drawing the listener into a world of confidential, whispered correspondences and magically half-lit gestures. Every note rings true, suggesting a composer tantalisingly on the verge of fresh musical discoveries.

On the face of it the Strauss is a very different kind of work, a grand virtuoso statement often played to the gallery for maximum impact. Yet when given time, as here, to unwind and expand naturally with the emphasis on magical texturing and lyrical exultancy, its emotional impact is considerably enhanced. An outstanding recital, warmly recommended.