• NJ's Alan Ferber Leads L.A. Big Band @ Blue Whale

    January 12, 2012. Posted by Alex Rodriguez.

    Add new comment | Filed under: concerts

    After having such a great time last week in Los Angeles for the last leg of our Toast of the Nation broadcast (listen again here in case you missed it -- a great set featuring the Billy Childs Quartet,) I have been keeping an eye on the schedule at the great new jazz club where we made the recording, The Blue Whale.

    Alan Ferber Expanded Ensemble
    Alan Ferber's Expanded Ensemble

    As it turns out, Toast of the Nation producer Becca Pulliam wasn't the only one making a trip out from the East Coast to dig the scene here -- this past weekend, South Orange-based trombonist Alan Ferber brought his book of big band charts to play with a group of LA's top jazz talent. The Alan Ferber Expanded Ensemble played to a packed house on Friday and Saturday evenings -- between the enthusiastic crowd and Ferber's fresh charts, the group gave inspired performances on both nights.

    Ferber, who played jazz as an undergraduate at UCLA and began his professional career here, could call on plenty of old friends to play his charts. The buzz for this musical reunion was palpable from the start of Friday's first set: anticipation hovered over the band as they worked their way through the first two pieces. Ferber's original tune "Angel's Landing" started things off, its broad opening fanfare giving way to a hard-swinging vehicle for angular solos by Ferber, guitarist Anthony Wilson and pianist Josh Nelson. The second number, an arrangement of Chris Cheek's "So It Seems," abandoned swing for a relaxed even-eighths vamp and flowing saxophone melody.

    Anthony Wilson
    Anthony Wilson

    Things started to loosen up during the third piece, "Get Sassy," which began with a rambunctious trombone soli that featured all four trombonists -- Ferber, Garrett Smith, Joey Sellers, and Craig Gosnell -- slowly morphed into a slow, blasting 12/8 strut punctuated by drummer Mark Ferber's explosive hits.

    Ferber's music is characterized by limited loyalty to the big band genre; the music swings hard when it needs to, but is just as often loosely designed to follow the moods of the improvising soloists. As a result, the pieces develop unexpected branches and surprises along the way. The fourth chart, "Reunion" is a good example: at times, it sounded like a traditional barn-burner, with up-tempo swing and virtuosic bebop melodies, but followed soloists Walter Smith III, Brian Swartz and Tom Barber in surprising directions as well.

    Friday's first set concluded with a pair of Ferber originals, "North Rampart" and "Kopi Luwak." The first, a tone poem in homage to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, featured beautiful brass chorale writing and deeply soulful solo by Nelson on piano and Smith on trombone. The closer, named after the coffee bean delicacy harvested from civet feces, featured exciting, metrically serpentine counterpoint and a hard-rocking groove in 15/8. Ferber absolutely tore it up over the vamp, leaving the capacity crowd mesmerized.

    Alan Ferber, photo by Eric Schmidt
    Alan Ferber

    Saturday's set featured many of the same charts, but with additional arrangements including a reworking of Bjork's "Hyperballad," a beautiful soundscape originally written for his wedding called "Wildwood" with a ridiculous flute solo by Katisse Buckingham, and "Jigsaw," which explored everything from free improvisation to frenetic rock, featuring truly wild solos by Buckingham (this time on alto sax) and Mark Ferber on drums.

    Mark Ferber, photo by Eric Schmidt
    Mark Ferber

    So even though the New Yorkers had the Winter Jazzfest to keep their ears busy this weekend, Alan Ferber and his Angelino friends made sure that LA's jazz fans could enjoy more than just the sunny weather.

    All photos by Eric Schmidt: www.ericjschmidt.com

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