“I always suspected that Charles Ives had the makings of a great jazz composer. Now Jack Cooper has shown just how jazzy Ives can get. This is a fun, exciting recording and one of the most creative big band projects of the year.”
— Ted Gioia, author of The History of Jazz
By DAVE GREGG
Every so often one of those self-appointed apostles of cultural cynicism will exploit their place on a national journal to reignite the tired yet familiar debate — that jazz is dead. The house of jazz, they’ll rant, is a dilapidated relic with crumbling foundations, shuttered windows, and yellowed newspapers strewn across dust-laden floors. A lamentable example, recently published in the normally hallowed pages of The New Yorker, featured a humorless parody of jazz legend, Sonny Rollins.
While these flagrant floggings of America’s greatest art form are predictable grumblings from today’s attention-deficit-driven society, they are easily countered by the continued release of new and seminal jazz recordings each year.
One such recording is —Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra— a new release of eight stunning works for big band, beautifully arranged by Jack Cooper, a much sought-after composer and arranger in the jazz world.
In a recording that comprises fifty-five minutes of compelling American music, Cooper adds the full-throated roar of the big band to the strange yet captivating sounds of the modernist composer, Charles Ives. The engaging contrast of styles evokes images of the dark, smokey confines of the jazz club with the mist-shrouded banks of Ives’ fabled Housatonic, in eight aptly drawn musical portraits of Americana.
Cooper’s eminence looms large in these ingenious transformations of Ives’ songs, a unique coalescence of musical styles that never feel forced together. Credit Cooper’s creative alchemy here if you conclude after hearing the recording that Ives surely cut his compositional teeth in the jazz haunted speakeasies of Manhattan’s 52nd street.
Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra — The Music
In Mists, the title track, Cooper transforms Ives’ elegiac setting of ‘gray skies’ and haunting vistas of ‘hill and dale’ into an uptempo jaunt through the ambiguous terrain of the whole-tone scale, with an obvious nod to Dee Barton, of Stan Kenton fame. In an intensely swinging diatribe, Cooper pounds relentless successions of altered dominant seventh chords, powerfully punctuated by exciting shouts from the brass and fiery solos played by Terell Stafford, Ivan Renta, and Luis Bonilla.
Terell Stafford, a guest soloist featured on the title track and the concluding cut, The Cage, joins an impressive roster of soloists on the album, many of them members of the esteemed Village Vanguard Orchestra. With a charismatic sound and an impeccable sense of swing, Stafford ignites the music with fingers of lightning that scorch the air. His jazz is lyrical, hard-driving, and red-hot.
In The Last Reader, Cooper adopts one of Ives’ favorite traditions: pitting two ensembles in musical opposition. The dense cluster of harmonies lends an ethereal effect akin to light scattered in swirls of mist — an undeniable Ivesian touch. Following the airy dissonance of the introduction, Cooper dresses the main theme in a more contemporary setting, with tenor and guitar in fusion-flavored unison, succeeded by heartfelt solos played by Alex Wintz and Jim Seeley. The work culminates in an extended climax, orchestrated with a breathtaking surge of emotion from the ensemble that unveils Jack’s most gorgeous writing.
At The River, a laid-back medium swing, brims with inventiveness. Cooper ingeniously uses simple background figures behind the familiar hymn like tonal bits of clay that mold and develop the work into something well beyond the original intentions of the church-goer — but to great effect for the jazz listener. Luis Bonilla and Chris Karlic are featured on the trombone and baritone sax.
The Cage, the final selection among the eight arrangements, is Cooper’s magnum opus. Bolstered by impassioned solos by Billy Drews, Peter Brainin, and Terell Stafford, this arresting work — on the surface at least — is just a 24 measure minor blues. Never satisfied with the banal, however, Cooper elevates the piece into a pinnacle of artistic expression, crafting a complex knit of musical passages that range from the merely atmospheric to intricate contrapuntal lines that ingeniously contrast and intertwine in a tour de force of wildly inventive jazz composition.
Special mention must also go to the piano prowess of Randy Ingram, the rhythmic fervor of Vince Cherico, and the impressive soloists not mentioned earlier: Scott Wendholt, Chris Karlic, John Mosca, Rey David Alejandre, and Andrew Halchak.
On final analysis, Mists: Charles Ives For Jazz Orchestra showcases a marvelous band, stellar soloists, and a level of arranging rich with heritage yet honed with an ear toward things to come. Cultural prophets may continue to proclaim that jazz is dead, that the tradition has gone stale , that the music isn’t cool anymore (as one reporter blithely stated), but Jack Cooper settles that argument, brilliantly and decisively, with this important new recording.
Order a copy:
For a more in-depth analysis of Jack’s work with Ives, read Scott Healy’s jazz composition blog.
Track listing for Mists: Charles Ives For Jazz Orchestra:
- The Last Reader
- The Children’s Hour
- Tom Sails Away
- The Camp Meeting
- At The River
- The Cage
Alto – Billy Drews (Lead)
Alto – Andrew Halchak
Tenor – Ivan Renta
Tenor – Peter Brainin
Baritone – Chris Karlic
Nick Marchionne (Lead)
Terell Stafford (trumpet)
John Mosca (Lead)
Rey David Alejandre
Frank Cohen (bass , all except #3)
Douglas Purviance (bass #3, #8)
Piano – Randy Ingram
Guitar – Alex Wintz
Bass – Andy McKee
Drums & Percussion – Vince Cherico