By Andrew Poretz . . .
Andy Farber, an award-winning jazz composer, arranger and saxophonist, brought his big band to Birdland Jazz club on Sunday afternoon November 21, for a set of nine original compositions (all but one from his new album, “Early Blue Evening”) and one jazz standard. It’s no easy feat to fit 17 musicians onto the Birdland stage, and not all of them did. To accommodate the big band and its big sound, the entire front row of tables was kept free of customers. Several players were situated in front of the curtains at stage right`, and Andy, as bandleader and sax player, roamed the front of the stage. The reed section was a marvel, the members switching seamlessly between sax and clarinet, or even flute, as called for.
Andy is a large, self-deprecatingly funny fellow with a vast knowledge of jazz music and history; he can typically name most of the personnel on the most obscure cuts. His compositions and arrangements feel accessible and familiar, yet new. The set was straightforward, without superfluous tempo changes or excessive use of modulation. The arrangements borrow from some of the best signature motifs and riffs of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and even Nelson Riddle, without directly recreating them.
Andy opened with “The Bombers,” a swinging, powerful number that had a strong Basie feel, featuring Wayne Goodman on trombone and Bruce Harris on trumpet. Andy then turned his attention to the new album, playing all eight originals in the same order as the CD, essentially making the set a live version of a studio album.
“Feet and Frames,” inspired by his love of movie music, was tom-tom heavy and had the feel of an exotic film score from the 40s. The band heaved in a series of thrilling climaxes, and one could nearly see the characters of this movie taking to the open road.
“The Holidaymakers” could have been another film score, or perhaps something played by “Ricky Ricardo” at the Tropicana Club. In Andy’s imagination, the setting could be an island in the Caribbean with a balmy breeze, an elderly woman dancing by the pool. Terrific trombone solos by Wayne Goodman and Art Baron, and trumpet solos by Bruce Harris and James Zollar made for an exhilarating number.
The CD title song, “Early Blue Evening,” featured Andy Farber. This was perhaps the most melodic tune in the set, and one could imagine a hit vocal record of this song, if it had lyrics.
Some of Andy’s sources of song inspiration were funny and unusual. He told a great story about once seeing a “producer right out of Central Casting” coming out of the LA studio lot in a 1960s Rolls Royce. He made up a back story for this scene, and turned it into “Fanfare on Fairfax.” “Cork Grease and Valve Oil,” a concerto grosso for big band, was inspired by the smell of trumpet valve oil in an old horn Andy found in an attic.
The next two songs honored a pair of musicians associated with Duke Ellington. Portrait Of Joe Temperley” was dedicated to Ellington’s baritone saxophonist. The actual instrument was in use for this tune. A song for Ellington’s trumpet and flugelhorn soloist Clark Terry, “Symphony For Doctor ‘T’” featured Brian Pareschi on flugelhorn, and had a bit of a Ray Charles country vibe with strong shades of Billy Strayhorn.
A later listening to the recording, played as loud as practical in a Manhattan apartment, was something of a revisit to tonight’s set. Yet nothing can compare to the excitement and power of a live big band.
Andy Farber and His Orchestra
Reeds: Dave Glasser, Jay Brandford, Dan Block, Abdias Armenteros, Carl Maraghi, Andy Farber
Trumpets: Brian Pareschi, Bruce Harris, Shawn Edmonds, James Zollar
Trombones: Wayne Goodman, Art Baron, Jasim Perales
Rhythm: James Chirillo – guitar; Adam Birnbaum – piano; Jennifer Vincent – bass; Mark McLean – drums
Birdland Jazz Club
315 West 44th Street
New York, New York