Umlaut Big Band

Mary's Ideas
Umlaut UMF R CD 3435

Mario Mariotti

Blues pour Boris

Amirani Records AMRN 066

While it’s somewhat a conundrum as to whether recreation and salutes to earlier Jazz figures should be encouraged or eliminated, decisions move towards the former when the subjects haven’t been incessantly celebrated. These discs follow that dictum. An all-Italian sextet session interpreting a Surrealist tale by a French novelist/trumpeter who also wrote about Jazz is cornetist Mario Mariotti’s Blues pour Boris, referencing Boris Vian (1920-1959)’s book L'Écume des Jours. Meanwhile on Mary's Ideas. Alto saxophonist Pierre-Antoine Badaroux directs the 17-piece Paris-based Umlaut Big Band (UBB) plus occasional orchestral input honoring pianist Mary Lou Williams (1919-1981)’s musical career. With 42-tracks on two CDs, the UBB interprets familiar, famous, rare and newly unearthed compositions and arrangements by the pioneering female musician. Not only did her wok help define the big band era from her Kansas City beginnings through creations for the likes of Duke Ellington, but she also created original themes that foreshadowed modern Jazz.

Paradoxically Ellington also figures strongly on Blues pour Boris’ dozen selection since at least three tracks are variations on “Mood Indigo”, with influences from the Ducal canon and his band’s soloists affecting the sextet’s interpretations. Beginning with a straight reading of the composition based around Mariotti’s muted cornet and clarinetist Emiliano Turazzi’s mellow glissandi, variations become more fragmented and abstract as the suite proceeds. Wallowing and wiggling, overblowing and irregularly vibrated slurs are added by soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo, as Walter Prati’s cello and Laura Faoro’s bass flute supply the bottom tones. Throughout the interpretations vary from moodiness to menace to multiphonics. While attempts are made to reference the novel which includes talking mice, aging years in a week and a bizarre illness only treated by being surrounded by flowers, the lyricism expressed is musical not manifesto oriented.

This occurs most noticeably on “Chloé Si Veste” and the title tune where narrative deconstruction is expressed in pastel colors manifested by traverse peeps, half-valve brass voicing and reed garbling in canon format in the first; and chalumeau register reed expression and a brass obbligato in the second. Despite a whinnying cornet line and crying saxophone slurs the concluding “Canne di Fucile” returns the narrative to horizontal evolution, as several earlier interludes confirmed the group’s tonal modernity. Swelling cello stropping, fluttering reed split tones and expressions of inner brass timbres are most prominent on “I Fratelli Desmaret, Pederasti D'onore” while “Intermezzo II Mood Indigo” is the most abstract version of that reoccurring theme.

With many Williams’ arrangements and compositions designed for the limitations of a single side of a 78, she had to cannily pack innovative concepts, asides and expressions into that miniature space. It’s a tribute to her skill and the UBB’s interpretative talents how well these accommodated arrangements sound, in some cases nearly 100 years after they were created. Badaroux and company have to be praised for their cadenced interpretations of the arrangements of standards; adding new sparkle to her tunes composed for the big Swing bands; and resuscitating many compositions that existed only in manuscript and have never been previously performed. It’s also important to recall that the majority of Williams’ works were conceived of within the constraints of Jazz-dance bands, including Andy Kirk’s, Ellington’s and Benny Goodman’s. That means that nearly every one of the tracks here is buoyantly played to reach foot tappers and high steppers. Some are simple riff tunes which call on Badaroux, baritone saxophonist Benjamin Dousteyssier, clarinetist Antonin-Tri Hoang, pianist Matthieu Naulleau and drummer Antonin Gerbal and others to take on Swing to Bop-like persona which they do by emulation not imitation. For examples Badaroux plants a supple refrain and Hoang a slippery response within “Aries” which is other wise characterized by bumping brass blasts and a thick double bass undertow. Naulleau’s assured two-handed solo on “Fifth Dimension”, slides between Stride and Blues and jumps expressively as it alternates with breaks from the whole band. Meanwhile “Gjon Mili’s Jam Session, conceived for the Ellington orchestra, become a Jazz piano history lesson as Naulleau references timbres from Ragtime to near Bop as Pauline Leblond adds hot trumpet choruses; Alexis Persigan blustery trombone snarls, some feathery clarinet aides from Huong and Gene Krupa-like breaks from drummer Gerbal. Showing how Williams moved with the times the track ends with a quote from “Salt Peanuts”. There’s also “Roll ‘Em”, the lengthiest track, which fluidly advances through Swing, Bop, R&B, Boogie-Woogie and Third Stream inferences without losing its linear form. With interjections by flute and strings, the basic honky-tonk concept directed by a clarinet lead gives way to slithery blats from trombonist Michaël Ballue, until the performance is doubled in tempo with a speedy piano solo, frenetic whole band vamps, drum slaps and Pierre Borel’s honking’s tenor saxophone. The tracks leading up to an including “Rosa Mae”, written three years before her death confirm that Williams kept up with the times. Based on a stop-time rhythm it has a neo-African vocal chorus, reed stretches from Borel that vibrate from Modern Jazz to Rock and ends with a climatic crescendo.

As much as they contribute to certain tracks the orchestral instruments are most valuable as coloration, although they create an appropriate pastel backing for those set up as concertos for specific instruments. However, the musical heavy lifting is done mostly by the core UBB. That’s why an examination of the three versions of “Mary’s Idea” illustrate its tasks. The first created in 1930 is pseudo-Dixieland with clanging banjo and expressive clarinet/trumpet riffing. The second from eight years later, despite a shuffle beat featured sectional counterpoint and an emphasis on a choir made up of clarinet, tenor sax, trombone and trumpet. Finally, the last from 1947, features sectional call-and-response, a logical introduction, elaborations and a coda, plus a swinging piano vamp, reed slurps, and a Ballue trombone solo that vamps and continues with brassy effects over the churning rhythm section.

Impressive for their individual creativity, Mario Mariotti’s sextet and Badaroux’s UBB must be commended for celebrating less heralded Jazz avatars.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Blues: 1. Premessa Mood Indigo 2. Il Pianocktail 3. Ricetta Salame Cotto di Trippa Delle Antille Al Porto Muschiato 4. Intermezzo I Mood Indigo 5. I Fratelli Desmaret, Pederasti D'onore 6. Chloé Si Veste 7. Blues pour Boris 8. Mot-valise Dans la Voiture 9. Colin Correva ... Chloé Riposava 10. Intermezzo II Mood Indigo 11. Uomini E Macchine 12. Canne di Fucile

Personnel: Blues: Mario Mariotti (cornet and small percussion); Gianni Mimmo (soprano saxophone); Emiliano Turazzi (clarinet and bass clarinet); Laura Faoro (bass flute) and Walter Prati (cello)

Track Listing: Mary: CD1: History of Jazz for Wind Symphony: Introduction – Suffering; VARIATIONS IN THE BLUES: Chunka Lunk; New Musical Express; Just an Idea (Mary’s Idea); Medi No.2; Truth; Aries; KAYCEE: The Count; Harmony Blues; Mary’s Idea (1930); After You’ve Gone; Body and Soul; Mary Steps Out; PRELUDE TO DUKE – Pt. 1: Gjon Mili’s Jam Session; Sweet Georgia Brown; Stardust (big band version); Lonely Moments (1943); Sleepy Valley HAMILTON TERRACE: Kool; Conversation; Scorpio; Untitled Incidental Music (excerpts). CD2: PRELUDE TO DUKE – Pt. 2: Fill the Cup; Blue Skies; Joe; O.W.; NEW BOTTLE, OLD WINE: Mary’s Idea (1938); Stardust (trio); Lonely Moments (1946); Ghost of Love; BOOGIES: Fifth Dimension; Earl’s Boogie; Roll ‘Em*; ZODIAC SUITE*: Taurus; Aquarius; Virgo; ETERNAL YOUTH: History of Jazz for Wind Symphony: Spiritual #1 – Spiritual #2; Fandangle; Zoning Fungus II; Chief Natoma from Tacoma; Shafi; Rosa Mae

Personnel: Mary: Umlaut Big Band: Brice Pichard, Pauline Leblond, Gabriel Levasseur, Emil Strandberg (trumpet); Michaël Ballue, Alexis Persigan, Robinson Khoury (trombone); Judith Wekstein (bass trombone); Pierre-Antoine Badaroux (alto saxophone); Antonin-Tri Hoang (alto saxophone, clarinet); Pierre Borel (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Geoffroy Gesser (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet); Benjamin Dousteyssier (baritone, alto, bass saxophone); Matthieu Naulleau (piano); Romain Vuillemin (guitar, banjo); Sébastien Beliah (bass); Antonin Gerbal (drums); Umlaut Chamber Orchestra*: Ballue, Pichard, Gesser. Hoang, Borel, Naulleau, Beliah, Gerbal + Nicolas Josa (French horn); Liselotte Schricke (flute): Sylvain Devaux (oboe); Ricardo Rapoport) Ricardo Rapopor (bassoon); Hugo Boulanger, Aliona Jacquet, Clémence Meriaux, Stéphanie Padel, Manon Philippe, Lucie Pierrard, Emilie Sauzeau, Léo Ullman (violin); Issey Nadaud, Elsa Seger (viola): Félicie Bazelaire, Elsa Guiet (cello); Badaroux (conductor)