|Writing on the Wall||Jibe||4:50|
|What It Is||Jibe||3:52|
|Saving My Words||Jibe||4:51|
This CD reissue of a Pablo date features Frank Foster (on tenor and soprano) and Frank Wess (tenor, flute and alto) at their best. They perform three Wess originals, one by Foster, and a variety of mostly underplayed standards (including Neal Hefti's "Two for the Blues," plus "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most") and a surprisingly uptempo "Send In the Clowns." With pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith offering stimulating support, this is an excellent showcase for the two Franks. A follow-up Concord set (Frankly Speaking) used the same personnel.
Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone define the spaghetti western style of film and music so squarely, the competition is barely considered. It was on the backs of films such as this 1967 smash, starring a pre-Dirty Harry Clint Eastwood, that their well-known reputation rests. The CD is more than you expect. Of course, Morricone has that unique style that he and older, less Italian-influenced Western film composers made synonymous with the action from St. Louis to the Rockies, and the deserts from there to the coast. There are the clip-clop beats similar to the trot of horses, the weary harmonica trill, and the peculiar whistling, that puckered sound of aloneness that still makes one think of solitary battles against the self as much as mounted foes. But Morricone also loves rustic, romantic orchestrations that use his whole orchestra. When a trumpet hits a solo on "Theme From Fistful of Dollars," backed by chilly strings and Spanish-strummed acoustic guitars, it's one of Byronic, beautiful, spacious solitude. Cymbals crash over a piano's bass keys, amidst rumbling trumpets and trombones, and the thump of timpani. Flutes and violins dart as much as thrust and parry, and background voices "Ahhh" in that everyman way, along with whip-cracks. It's all pretty prairie, rolling hills, grasslands and cattle, wagon wheels, and unshaven men with uncertain life spans. It's so mood-setting, you expect to see cactus or bison outside your door instead of an asphalt city. It's instrumental music that's a veritable co-star in a motion picture, not a pack of pre-recorded hit songs all wedged into a film like large square pegs into tiny round holes. This is authentic film scoring, and it is as alluring and inviting as Leone's movie itself. You can see it just to hear this.
The only problem with creating an adventurous fusion jam album that flies in the face of the smooth jazz safety net is that sometimes, exciting playing takes precedence over memorable tunecrafting; Jeff Richman could use a little of Darren's facility with sharp, to the point melodic statements.
The recording of the electric guitarist's Sand Dance would probably have been fun to watch; Richman, bassist Dean Taba, drummer Joel Taylor, and EWI ace Judd Miller seem to be having a grand old time playing off each other's cues, soloing with abandon and shifting dynamics and tempos. There are spacy, noodling trio-based pieces ("2025"), raucous funk-rockers that break in the middle for moody meditation ("Bamboo Man"), and a sweet little reflective take on "One Hand, One Heart" from West Side Story. Richman himself seems intent on discovering every sonic possibility for his instrument -- "Ashes to Ashes" features crying, echoing long notes, "Bamboo Man" features a trickling water effect, and "Bohemia" is all distorted rock electricity. A blast? Sure, but more in the sense of great musicians coming together for a big party. Lots of spirit, just not enough melodically to take with you when you leave.