George Garzone, The Monash Sessions

Garzone, sax, with a number of student and faculty ensembles. Monash University Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music
Big Band, Jazz, Music
Jazzhead, HEAD166
Reviewed by , October 1st, 2014

Boston saxophonist and jazz educator George Garzone has visited Australia many times and when here would rehearse and workshop with Monash University music students. This in turn has led to a residency and mentorship at Monash University in 2011, a concert at Melbourne jazz club Bennetts Lane and finally this recording.

There are four sessions: one each with big band, two small ensembles and a small world music ensemble and apart from one or two pieces, it is the first four tracks with the big band that contain the strongest music, collective band sound and improvisation.

George Garzone

George Garzone

The opening track I’m Getting Sentimental Over You hits us between the ears with a big sumptuous tenor sound. The band sounds tight, well rehearsed and the arrangements by Boston colleague Greg Hopkins are good with strong harmonized saxophone sections and horn fills. The recorded sound quality is good although the drum kit’s ride cymbal is a bit brittle.

Body and Soul is taken at a brisk tempo and slightly over arranged with pedal points, re-harmonized sections, lots of horn section comments that can distract a little from the beauty of this classic piece but it serves well as another vehicle for Garzone’s impressive chord “shredding” improvisatory style. Whether the band is behind him or he’s in a more exposed section, Garzone tears into it with gusto, pushing his own chromatic triadic concept to the limit. However there is only so much figurative “tearing up” of this material one can take before player and listener need a huge breather. We get it at the end of Body and Soul when the band drops out and Garzone after a gulp of air plays out the arrangement with piano.

Okalvongo, composed by arranger Greg Hopkins, marks a welcome change with its more open modal theme with African rhythms and suits Garzone’s inside-outside playing over the harmony. It also has a reflective and contrasting guitar solo from Grant Higgins. Garzone’s playing in the out theme forces a little too far outside the changes and is out of tune in one or two places and the band tends to get a little too busy behind him in these moments as if not fully sure what to do. After Nutville, a Horace Silver tune taken fast with a busy arrangement, we come to the pieces recorded with the three smaller ensembles.

There’s Snow Place Like Home by Garzone stands out with a catching bass riff and some angular lines with counter-themes; it snaps and pops and features a good solo from trombonist James Macauley. However the recording of four different ensembles with four different styles tends to sound like four albums in one, and resemble a “demo” of the music school. The music, sound quality and mastering all seem to drop off slightly as the album progresses, notably with the second small ensemble. There is more reverb and the microphone placement and recording set-up sound quite different.

The album serves well as a reference to hear Garzone’s playing and the students of the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music in a range of styles and settings but is less satisfying as a whole album listening experience.

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