Concerts with Maria Schneider are something special. They are stylistically not only out of the ordinary, they also manage to bring large orchestras to perform artistically at high voltage, with an energy and at a creative level which is otherwise known only in much smaller ensembles. It is not the music alone that drives the participants, but rather the serene seriousness of a band leader who demands a maximum of intensity from her compositions and passes this premise on to their interpretation. It is impossible to conceive of compositions for jazz orchestras more stringently. The instrumentalists know this too, and therefore feel called upon not only to reproduce the charts accurately but to work out all the contained hints, implications, and visions of sound down to the deepest levels. This original recording was made in May 2000 when Schneider appeared alongside the SWR Big Band. And for the SWR Big Band, those days in May 2000 are some of the highlights of their orchestral history.
The second CD by Philip Johnston's Big Trouble is jazz mixing great musicianship with a touch of madness. He treats Steve Lacy's "Hemline" as if it were penned by Raymond Scott (whose music was adapted for classic Looney Tunes cartoons) and "Bone" sounds like a wild improvisation on a childhood chant. Pianist Joe Ruddick's "Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken" has a nifty calypso beat with an intense cacophony of reeds and brass. Johnston is also a gifted composer; his "Pontius Pilate Polka" blends folk dances with swinging Dixieland interludes. "Mr. Crocodile" is a light samba with a touch of reggae. Highly recommended for fans of the great melting pot of jazz.
The Unknown is saxophonist/composer Phillip Johnston's soundtrack to the 1927 silent film of the same name. As with much of Johnston's other work, the music here is a witty, often changing mix of sounds and styles from various eras. Appropriately, there is an emphasis on various film music archetypes, although not just from the silent film era, but from more modern times, too. The tracks weave in and out of frantic, polka-driven chase-scene themes, genteel waltzes, nostalgic parlor-room piano sections, sultry noir-jazz passages, and more. Johnston also adds in more modern elements, from dissonant horn harmonies and free-leaning improvisation to a few rock-oriented rhythms and even some electronic/synthesizer touches.
Although the name may not be familiar to many, Big Boy Pete (aka Pete Miller) has been flogging around the music scene for nearly five decades. He first played in a rock & roll band called the Offbeats, who recorded an EP in 1958, and in 1961, he joined the beat group Peter Jay & the Jaywalkers. With the Jaywalkers, he recorded a number of singles, which were produced by Joe Meek, from whom Pete learned many new and innovative recording techniques. In 1965, he quit the band to concentrate on recording solo projects, and turned to session work to support his recording career. During this period, he became a part-time member of the legendary underground freakbeat band the News, while continuing to write songs for Britain's major publishing houses…
When Bishop played guitar with Paul Butterfield in the 1960s he fancied himself a countrified hippie named Pig Boy Cranshaw. His sense of humor remains intact decades later, evidenced on a relaxed blues-oriented rock program shot through with a smart sort of bumpkin levity. He never could sing (it was Mickey Thomas on his 1970s smash "Fooled Around and Fell in Love"), but his guitar rides roughshod over those of many a better-known blues artist.