Friday, July 06, 2012

Don Sebesky's Masterwork Giant Box

Don Sebesky’s Giant Box is part of the CTI Masterworks reissues of classic CTI albums marking the label’s 40th Anniversary. Originally issued as a double album, the single CD here makes available the music that Sebesky contributed arrangements/orchestrations to along with some original compositions from him. While it might seem this was a tribute to him from the label’s artists, in fact it was his attempt to showcase some of the label’s soloists he had worked with, and while writing the material he had a feeling who should play specific solos. Sebesky himself the arrangements and compositions here were amongst the most ambitious he had written at that time.

Among those featured on the performances on this recording are Sebesky and Bob James on keyboards; Ron Carter on acoustic, electric and piccolo bass; Billy Cobham and Jack DeJohnette on drums; George Benson and Harry Leahy; Airto, Dave Friedman and Ralph McDonald on percussion; Paul Desmond, Joe Farrell; and Grover Washington, Jr. on saxophones; Milt Jackson on vibes; Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and flugelhorn; Hubert laws on flute; and Jackie Kral and Roy cain on vocals.

The liner notes to the original release are included and while there is considerable classical influence (including his full use of strings, horns and woodwinds) in how Sebesky approaches some of the performances, he affirmatively answers that the ultimate result is jazz. He uses Stravinsky's Firebird to frame his orchestral arrangement for John McLaughlin’s Birds of Fire that is one of the showcases for Hubert Laws’ flute along with Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet and Harry Leahy’s guitar. Paul Desmond’s dry martini alto saxophone is showcased on the interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s Song to a Seagull, on which Sebesky is heard on electric piano.

Sebesky’s electric piano opens his original Free As a Bird with soaring horns has outstanding solos that take flight from James on piano, Hubbard on flugelhorn, and Washington on soprano sax (note how he really digs in on this). James is on organ for the arrangement of Jimmy Webb’s setting for Psalm 150, with Jackie Kral and Roy Cain singing praise for the Lord with Hubbard’s trumpet and Carter’s bass adding to the joyful sounds. Desmond opens the interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise, which is followed by some vibes-piano interplay between Milt Jackson and Bob James along with more Desmond on a lovely performance with some flamenco tinges and lovely use of horns in the orchestration.

Sebesky invokes us with his vocal to fly high as we could if we only could try opening his original medley Fly/Circle. This performance opens somewhat dreamingly that has both Laws and Farrell both displaying a fair amount of reverb in their flute and soprano sax respectively before an interlude with DeJohnette and Carter followed by Farrell’s serpentine solo and a skittering solo from Laws. The closing original Semi-Tough has a funky groove, some skittering piano from Sebesky, a gospel rooted vocal chorus, some gritty alto saxophone from Washington, and George Benson making judicious use of pedal effects in his driving guitar.

The performances on Don Sebesky’s Giant Box display how his ambitious synthesis of classical, jazz and popular music was so realized. His orchestrations frame the featured players here and enhance the solos that exhibit the skill and imagination of some of the greatest jazz musicians of four decades ago with m,ore than a few spectacular moments.

I received my review copy from a publicist for the release.

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