|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
Last night I had an old home visit of sorts: I attended the 21st Annual BMI Jazz Composers Workshop concert at Christ and St. Stephen's Church in Manhattan. Under the watchful eyes and careful ears of Jim McNeely, Mike Abene, and Mike Holobor, the Jazz Composers Workshop is an incubator for many creative big band and large ensemble jazz composers who go on after being in the Workshop to form and lead their own ensembles. Composers such as (and sorry to those friends I missed) Rufus Reid, Sherisse Rogers, JC Sanford, Ed Neumeister, Darcy James Argue, Asuka Kakitani, Jeff Fairbanks, Jamie Begian, Anita Brown, and (humbly including) myself all have passed through the doors of BMI's 57th Street headquarters.
The BMI Workshop is what initially brought me to New York City in the first place and I am always grateful to Jim and Burt Korall, the spiritual forefather of the workshop, for taking a chance on someone who, inspired and encouraged by Maria Schneider, decided to leave his previous life and move to NYC in hopes of trying to "make it" as a composer. I met many of my Numinous musicians as well as all of the Pulse composers at BMI and while I never considered (or consider) myself a "jazz composer" I nonetheless learnt much not only from Jim, Mike Abene, and before his death in 2001, Manny Albam, but from the other composers, musicians and special guest lecturers such as Maria and Gil Goldstein that all are a part of the BMI "Family".
The concert opened with a heartfelt tribute from Jim McNeely for Gerry Niewood, who was a frequent member of the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra and was one of those that died on Continental Flight 3407 outside Buffalo. Jim's words touched on the warmth of Gerry's character ("a truly nice guy") and his considerable musical ability and talent. The concert was dedicated to Gerry's memory.
Billed as premiering the "best of the best" jazz compositions created during the past year in the workshop, the compositions generally featured an eclectic overview of contemporary big band jazz language. As to be expected, no piece was totally straight-ahead although some did reference swing or bebop while others clearly showed the influence of Maria, Jim, or Bob Brookmeyer's music. My favorite piece of the night (and the one I found the most intriguing and unique) was Sara Jacovino's "Mental Block" with a lovely repeated circular opening piano figure that moved seamlessly into a pulsing cross-stick groove under a slowly floating melody eventually leading to a soprano sax solo from Marc Phanuef and later a guitar solo from Sebastian Noelle. Overall, there was a wonderful and natural rising emergence to the piece that kept me engaged throughout and wondering what idea was coming next. "Mental Block" was voted by a three judge panel (Rufus Reid, Darcy James Argue, and Dennis Mackrel) as the winner of the BMI/Charlie Parker Composition Competition and Sara received the $3000 Manny Albam Commission for a new piece to be premiered at 2010's concert.
The other compositions I found musically stimulating were: Noriaki Mori's "Rainy Song", a Competition nominee, opened with more dissonant and elusive winds which gave way to an uptempo groove with slight echo's of Maria Schneider's "Coming About" (especially in it's soaring emotional uplift and energetic tenor sax solo of Ben Kono) before succumbing to a slower wind chorale postlude; another Competition nominee, Tom Goehring's "I'm Not Sayin', (I'm Just Sayin')" with it's spidery up-tempo bebop-ish figures that jitterily traveled back and forth between instruments; and "Mulberry Street" from Jeff Fairbanks, the 2008 winner of the Charlie Parker Competition and Manny Albam Commission in an ambitious suite that mixed traditional Chinese gongs and musical gestures with more jazz-like passages.
All of the other compositions did have something I found notable and distinguished, even if I didn't always connect with the piece as a whole: Ann Belmont's "When the Stars Come Out" had a 1960's bachelor-pad loungy bossa nova feel; the percolating groove based on a Uruguayan rhythm called a candombe in Emilio Solla's "Llegara, Llegara, Llegara"; the playful opening and later funky grooves of "Change of Season" by Idah Santhaus (who seemed to have the most friends in the audience judging from the reaction after his piece); the quiet, slow atmosphere and more orchestral counterpoint of Brett Gold's "Diminished Waltz and Fantasia"; and the episodic "Poem" by Michele Caniato.
The compositions were generally conducted effectively by each composer and performed with usual professionalism and musicality by the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra: Marc Phanuef, Rob Wilkerson, Ben Kono, Rob Middleton, Kenny Berger (reeds); Jon Owens, John Eckert, Steve Smyth, Jim O'Connor (trumpets); Tim Sessions, Pete McGuiness, JC Sanford, Jennifer Wharton (trombones); Sebastian Noelle (guitar); Deanna Witkowski (piano); David Ambrosio (bass); Bryson Kern (drums); and Diana Herold (vibraphone on Ann Belmont's piece only).
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:53 AM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.