Monday, 23 January 2012

Afrodisian Orchestra: Starting European musical history all over again!

“Satie was, in a manner of speaking, starting European musical history all over again”.
Right, Alex Ross is way over the top, but then what else can you expect from someone who titles his collection of essays on 20th century music: The Rest is Noise I read this line, on page 49, on the way out before going to Madrid´s brilliant jazz bar  Sala Clamores
I went to Sala Clamores to  hear the Afrodisian Orchestra playing their latest offering,  featuring arrangements for big band of Satie´s works for piano. This was a classy gig by a classy outfit. Things took time to warm up, partly because, let´s be honest, we only really know the Gymnopedie piece, and the director held that back until the end of the second half, and partly because there were several  tunes in a gentle three four beat, which did not generate the most  energetic response.
Still, on these gentle tunes there was some exquisite solo work, above all on saxes. There was an extremely interesting use of clarinet in several of the tunes, giving a welcome touch of Ellington. In the second set the Afrodisian Orchestra played tunes from their previous cd´s, and this included an amazing screaming trumpet solo by Freddie Hurtado, which for me was worth turning out for all by itself.  The grand finale was the Gymnopedie, difficult to balance the major 7ths which Satie places often in the middle of the chord on the piano, and resolving this conundrum for a big band is not simple. Step forward Miguel Ángel Blanco, and you see his magic at work in this, as in all the other arrangements. 
Several years ago I saw him lead a wonderful big band in his superb arrangements created to showcase the trumpeter Jerry González  I am sure that many of us in the Centro Cultural de la Villa, as it was then called, expected to see the formation, fronted by Jerry, and masterminded by Miguel Ángel Blanco, sweeping across Europe to headline jazz festivals in one country after another. The musical material was excellent and the arrangements were fantastic, full of interesting voicings and exciting rhythms. 
So what happened to that project? I was thinking about this just now as I was reading a book about the band leader and trumpeter Harry James, world famous for his success as a crossover artist from hit jazz to commercial music in the ‘40s in the US. He is also (in)famous for his use of vibrato as an expressive element in his playing. The point is that, according to  "Trumpet Blues - the life of Harry James" by Peter J. Levinson, Harry James suffered 3 years of hardship on the road and near bankruptcy as he tried to make a go of running his own band.
Certainly it is not an easy business, but I would like to have seen more of the Jerry González project with Miguel Ángel Blanco, and I know I am not the only one. I must remember to ask my friend Kevin Robb who was among the excellent sax section that night, what became of it all.
Thank you, the Afrodisian Orchestra for a great concert, and for transporting many of us who have enjoyed playing the Gymnopedie alone at the piano into a different sound world, amplifying the expressive range of this beautiful music.
 For reviews of other jazz concerts, see these earlier posts:
 When all is said and done, maybe you have to forgive Alex Ross his hyberbole, because his heart is in the right place, and nobody can be all bad who describes the eccentric French composer’s impact as:
 “the supernatural poignancy of Erik Satie”

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