Clear Line, a new album for 13 horns

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Clear Line, a new album for 13 horns

Post by jacobgarchik » Tue Jul 28, 2020 5:09 pm

Since I was a kid, for over 30 years, I’ve participated in the grand American tradition of the Big Band. On “Clear Line”, out today, I finally step forward to lead one, with a twist: the album features 13 horns but no piano, bass & drums.

Clear Line is:
Jacob Garchik, composer, conductor; Nathan Eklund, Jonathan Finlayson, Adam O’Farrill, Davy Lazar, trumpets; Natalie Cressman, Kalia Vandever, Kalun Leung, trombones; Jennifer Wharton, bass trombone; Roman Filiu, Charlotte Greve, alto saxophones; Anna Webber, Kevin Sun, tenor saxophones; Carl Maraghi, baritone saxophone

From my humble beginnings in the Herbert Hoover Middle School Jazz Band, I’ve played with over 50 big bands of every stripe, including subbing in esteemed bands like JALC and the Mingus Big Band. Big bands, for trombone players, are a constant, a blessing, and a curse. There are plenty of opportunities to play, but talented trombone playing soloists and composers often find themselves delegated to a section, playing someone else’s music, and waiting (sometimes fruitlessly) for a chance to improvise.
Even J.J. Johnson at his mid-60s peak still played record dates where he played in a big band and didn’t solo at all. Sitting patiently in so many sections gave me a chance to formulate what I did and didn’t want to do when it eventually became my turn to lead the band.
To create Clear Line, I made a list of guidelines I wanted to follow. I was intrigued by self-imposed limitations like Schoenberg’s system, or the “Dogma 95” manifesto, which made rules for filmmaking, even though the directors broke them & quality of the films was a mixed bag. Wanting to forge a new sound, but wary of cliches of both straight ahead and avant garde jazz, I tried to find a way to thread the needle and make music that was unusual and accessible. Many of these guidelines I created as a reaction to things that jazz musicians gravitate towards automatically, often without even realizing that they are following rules.
I still make music that breaks my own guidelines, including small group jazz. I view jazz like chess, a classic game w/ fixed rules, which nevertheless can be played in an innovative way. There are other games, & even people creating new games, but chess still fascinates.
Some of these guidelines I also followed for my previous albums “The Heavens”, “Ye Olde”, my soundtrack for Guy Maddin’s “The Green Fog”, my Chamber-Music America commission “String Sextet” & my Pete Seeger tribute for Kronos Quartet “Storyteller”.
Every one of these I have also broken. They are just compositional aides, not doctrine.
1. No mixed meters, which have so marked so many jazz composer’s output for the past few years, instead favoring steady meters throughout each piece.
2. A focus on harmony that avoids 6-7 note chords so common in the post-Wayne Shorter era, instead favoring simple stackable triads, more undefinable chords with more than 8 notes, or harmony generated by melody, horizontally generated instead of vertical. Avoid chord symbols.
3. Avoid jazz “chorus” forms, where chord changes are repeated throughout the composition and serve as a basis for long solos, instead favoring unpredictable chord sequences or unrelated sections.
4. Avoid the jazz rhythm section. For bass functions use alternatives like piano, bass trombone, tuba, contrabass clarinet, or baritone guitar.
5. Use the post-Sgt Peppers recording studio. Avoid excessive “naturalistic” restrictions like complete takes, room sound, and an aversion to post production effects.
6. If drums are used, avoid vague drum parts that give a drummer far more freedom than other members of the ensemble. Use more precisely or completely notated drum notation. Or skip drums altogether. Use untraditional drum sets, large sets, or small ones.
For Clear Line in particular: 7. Avoid organic forms that build to a climax with “shout choruses”, instead favoring repetitive, static forms, continuously evolving forms, or additive layer-based forms.
8. Avoid jazz big band signatures like screech trumpet, heavy attacks on long notes followed by crescendos, and trombone parts that eschew melodic material for harmonic pads.
9. no “jazz orchestra”, with lush usage of woodwind doubles and colorful mutes, instead favoring the pure sounds of 5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, and 4 trombones. Instead of cross section blending, favor strict section contrasts, a la Mexican banda.
I don’t doubt that some of these come off as silly, pretentious, or naive, especially to experienced big band composers, which I am definitely not one of. But they helped me get footing in a vast, well trodden terrain. Hope you like what came out of them.
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