Chris Pattishall

April 28, 2021

Zodiac Suite
No label No #

The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound Expanded Ensemble
Clean Feed CF 556 CD

Extending the breadth of Jazz history these ensembles move past salutes to expected improvised music figures to present programs honoring two deceased composer/arranger/pianists involved in musical transition during distinct eras. Led by New York-based pianist Chris Pattishall, Zodiac Suite is a reconfiguration and amplification to sextet, of Mary Lou Williams’ (1910-1981) 12-part program originally recorded solo and by her trio. Antithetical, and not just because The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound is a 17-piece Philadelphia-based big band directed by alto saxophonist Bobby Zankel. Soundpath is the premier recording of a suite it commissioned from AACM founder Muhal Richard Abrams (1930-2017), first performed in 2012 with the composer at rehearsals.

Very much wedded to advanced mainstream Jazz, the Zodiac Suite was the first extended work to mark Williams’ following her mastery of the Swing idiom to create programs based on nascent Bop and beyond. Without straying too far from the original Pattishall’s conception plays up the transcendent aspects of Williams score, adding intense but respectful work from trumpeter Riley Mulherkar, tenor saxophonist Reuben Fox, bassist Marty Jaffe, drummer Jamison Ross and sound designer Rafiq Bhatia. Composing music that helped move Jazz from Hard Bop to Free Form in the 1960s and 1970s, Abrams’ music still maintains basic swing rhythms and Blues elements and to interpret it properly the Warriors added New York-based players as well as alto saxophonist Marty Ehrlich as conductor.

From the top with processional piano lines and becalmed trumpet and saxophone interaction, Pattishall and company are cognizant of the contours of the suite. Accelerating or diminishing the harmonies, the group mixes near-classical formalism with space for percussion clip clops, and upfront horn work. Fox’s quiet puffs and Mulherkar’s mellow muting often intersect. While the trumpeter’s agility includes heraldic fanfares, the band reaches a contrasted level on “Virgo”, where Fox’s breathy Ben Webster-like expansion, Mulherkar’s brass echoes and the pianist’s internalizing of updated Stride and supper club-like polish approximate the sounds Williams would have created in her Kansas City heyday.

This restrained slickness is what makes some of the suite’s sequences work less well than others. Although gentling keyboard sweeps on a track like “Pisces” uses plinking fragility to make a point, interpretations on other tracks appear too delicate. That’s why the most notable interaction occurs on “Scorpio” as rim shot coloration and vibrating bull fiddle plucks toughen a “Caravan” sounding theme. A logical piano showcase of connective glissandi, the dance-oriented middle confirms its Swing bone fides. Confirming this and adding a tincture of modernist rhythm section noises and detuned string slaps, the concluding “Aries” succinctly melds these 21st Century touches with a fervent call-and-response Swing vamp.

Although composed more than 60 years later, a fluid pulse is maintained during “Soundpath”. By design it’s not as obvious as on the other CD, but an adagio to allegro grove is always present, Bop inferences and a series of emphasized crescendos throughout the 40½ minute concert abound. With the sequences and the section work alternately intertwined and fractured, motifs consistently extend the theme. Yet along the way brassy slurs from the three trumpeters and one cornetist, half-valve trills and plunger slides from three trombonists and sputters and honks during saxophone solos testify to the originality of the arrangements and the soloists’ skills. Perhaps because the piece was compose by a pianist, the soloist whose playing stands out among the better-known Philly and New York crew is Tom Lawton, a Temple University lecturer. One-quarter of the way through his swift comping that dynamically detours into harsh key clipping and expressive glissandi sets up a sparkling dynamic. It leads to reed unfolding from the integrated saxophone section as Robert DeBellis’ placid soprano saxophone line is doubled by altissimo bites from one altoist and quivering treble swells from the other, propelled by Michael Formanek steadying bass part. An interlude of bass trombone puffs from Jose Davilla near the three-quartet mark on top of restrained stick work from drummer Chad Taylor, leads to buzz-saw saxophone expansions and mercurial whorls and capillary curls from the brass section as the timbres ascend in pitch and volume. ending with a surprisingly warm saxophone interlude. The final section undulates up and down the scale with a display of ratamacues, ruffs and pops from Taylor as the horns move in roller-coaster-ride-like pitches behind him. The finale consolidates a vibrating high note propelled by all the horns, following a penultimate focus on swing from the rhythm section.

Perhaps a little too source respectful to be truly innovative, Zodiac Suite still confirms Pattishall’s skills as an orchestrator as it showcasing some up-and-coming players and honors an innovative Jazz pioneer. Meanwhile Soundpath is a respectful and a rousing reading of a singular late-period work by another major composer that deserves to be performed again.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Zodiac: 1, Taurus 2. Gemini 3. Cancer 4. Leo 5. Virgo 6. Libra 7. Scorpio 8, Sagittarius 9. Capricorn 10. Aquarius 11. Pisces 12. Aries

Personnel: Zodiac: Riley Mulherkar (trumpet); Reuben Fox (tenor saxophone); Chris Pattishall (piano); Marty Jaffe (bass); Jamison Ross (drum) and Rafiq Bhatia (sound design and programming)

Track Listing: Soundpath: 1. Soundpath

Personnel: Soundpath: Graham Haynes (cornet); Dave Ballou, Dwayne Eubanks, Josh Evans (trumpet); Steve Swell, Michael Dessen, Alfred Patterson (trombone); Jose Davilla (bass trombone); Marty Ehrlich, Bobby Zankel, Julian Pressley (alto saxophone); Robert DeBellis (tenor, soprano saxophones); Hafez Modirzadeh (tenor saxophone); Mark Allen (baritone saxophone); Tom Lawton (piano); Michael Formanek (bass); Chad Taylor (drums)