Joe Fiedler
Joe Fiedler's Big Sackbut

(Yellow Sound Label)

A very fine album which appeared totally out of the blue inside my mailbox and which gave me a sizable quantity of food for thought - besides providing me, of course, with many hours of pure listening pleasure.

I have to admit that - as I think it's only natural for those who have listened to tons of music for decades - sometimes I get the feeling that all has already been said. I have to add that, for the most part, the music that I happen to listen to almost appears as to be purposely designed in order to reinforce my (erroneous) belief. So I welcomed this album, where musicians don't attempt to reinvent the wheel, preferring instead to create a framework (which works in "multimode": this music can work just as well as a fine background) that deals with a few interesting questions.

And so, Joe Fiedler's Big Sackbut reminded me of the fact that the world is beautiful, big, and varied - but what if I had not found it in my mailbox? This, in fact, is an interesting question (whose answer is better left for another time).

Let's have a look at the names of the featured musicians: Joe Fiedler, Ryan Keberle, Josh Roseman, Marcus Rojas.

Having appeared on a few hundred albums, Marcus Rojas is for me the most familiar face of this quartet. I can still remember with great pleasure his fine performances on albums released by the Henry Threadgill's line-up Very Very Circus.

The same is true when it comes to Joe Fiedler, a musician whose CV is long and varied. Here the first thing that comes to my mind is his participation to two albums recorded by Fast 'n ' Bulbous - The Captain Beefheart Project: Pork Chop Blue Around The Rind (2005), and Waxed Oop (2009), the latter featuring an interesting arrangement by Fiedler of the Beefheart composition titled Blabber 'n' Smoke (a track which originally appeared on the album The Spotlight Kid, released in 1972); a parallel arrangement of that track appears on this album.

I'm sorry I have to say that this is the first time that I listened to Ryan Keberle and Josh Roseman.

OK, now it's time to say of the featured instrumentation: it's three trombones and a tuba.

I'm afraid I can almost perceive readers' interest being on the wane (well, some readers').

It would be a pity, given the fact that this music is varied, lively, timbrally rich and inventive. At times it almost appears that one is listening to trumpets, the whole reminding me of Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy (but only when it comes to timbre, this line-up's intentions being quite different). I could also add that here the featured instrumentation is almost "transparent", and in a way this is not far from the truth. But I'm afraid this notion could diminish the fine work done by this ensemble on their instruments.

Provided I understood well, the initial impulse for this project came to Fiedler when - about twenty-five years ago - he listened to The World Saxophone Quartet.

Having a look at the albums in my house, this is what I found as possible antecedents when it comes to the "hardware" part: Piece For Three Trombones Simultaneously, featured on Side One of The George Lewis Solo Trombone Record (1977). Also, Slideride (1995), an album which featured a quartet of trombones played by Ray Anderson, Craig Harris, George Lewis, and Gary Valente (I hear you say, "these are not three trombones and a tuba". Right - but when Lewis was not available the line-up recruited tuba player Bob Stewart, changing its name to The Heavy Metal Quartet).

With the exception of three covers, Fiedler wrote all the music that appears on this album, also all the arrangements, his music being of the "hidden complexity" type. The musicians are all quite versatile, all "genres" here being performed with the appropriate feel for "authenticity". Compositional strategies reminded me of jazz, also of classical music - but maybe this is a distinction that pertains more to the listener than to the composer.

A fast look at those pieces should be enough to give readers a taste, though this is obviously not to be taken as a substitute for "the real thing".

Album opener Mixed Bag (appropriately titled, this is a quite varied composition) has a lively, collective intro, a little theme that's Monk/bossa-flavoured, then a "samba" that would not sound out of place on a Blue Note LP from the 60s. Solo by Fiedler with a fine backing by the tuba, and two trombones, sounding as rich as a full section. The solo goes up, sounding almost like a flugelhorn. There's a solo by Josh Roseman, with a "parallel development", ably assisted by his colleagues. Then it's back to the theme, sounding quite joyous, close.

Then it's time for The Crab (after a few listening sessions I think it could be said that this title makes more than a passing reference to such things as "crab canon" and "canon cancrizans" - not that I know about any of this stuff, mind you, I just had a look at my dictionary). The opening section is quite "jumpy", with variable symmetries. There's a fine "bass" figure, trombones above. Then it's time for a Fiedler solo on a tuba ostinato, the solo in the end getting to a kind of Latin-tinged exuberance that in a way reminded me of Roswell Rudd, with fine backing by the winds. Then it's time for a solo by Josh Roseman, at first getting a backing of percussive effects, then a "layer" effect from the arrangement. Theme again, coda.

Dedicated to the late pianist, Don Pullen starts with something that reminded me a bit of Carla Bley. A "swinging" theme, 4/4, with "bass" coming to the fore, it's a theme that sticks in one's mind. There's a fine solo by Ryan Keberle, who "knits" on a "swing" counterpoint. Theme, and a close that repeats a few bars from the opening section, so that the melody - coming at the end - now sounds sad.

A Call For All Demons is a Sun Ra composition whose arrangement here reminded me of Charles Mingus on albums such as Blues And Roots. There's an excellent "bass" by Marcus Rojas - I have to admit that, once in a while, while listening to this album, I happened to reach for the CD cover in order to check the name of the bass player. Fine solos by both Roseman and Keberle, which make the track's temperature go higher, and then bring the piece to its sinister, swinging, theme.

#11 opens with an Ellington-flavoured theme, with fine harmony. Very incisive, it stays in one's mind. Quite intelligent wind section. Fiedler's solo has an interesting "shape", it climaxes with high notes, repeated, con brio, then it goes back to the theme, which - by virtue of "opposition" - now sounds "sad".

Calle Luna, Calle Sol is a vivacious Latin/Salsa theme penned by Willie Colon. There's a fine touch: trombones in the right channel imitating the strumming of guitars; and trombones also, at times, sounding like trumpets, mariachi-style. Fine solos by Ryan Keberle and Joe Fiedler.

The group's cover of Blabber And Smoke gives the Beefheart track an appropriate rarefied, slowed-down, almost surreal, feel, which goes hand-in-hand with the "start and stop" of the original. Plungers appear. One can compare the above-mentioned electric version, featuring drums, electric bass, and electric guitar, and this new version of what is basically the same arrangement. "Variations on a theme" for Josh Roseman's solo, ably assisted by Marcus Rojas's tuba.

Ging Gong opens with a tuba figure, then a light, airy theme that at first reminded me of Nucleus, but then I thought of some of Joseph Zawinul's ethnic-flavoured "pigmy melodies". A tuba solo is placed opposite a "swinging" figure by the trombones. Then it's Joe Fiedler, with plunger.

Does This Make My Sackbut Look Big? (my dictionary revealed to me that Sackbut is an old version of the trombone used in Renaissance music) has a swinging start, starring trombones. Tempo slows, tuba and trombone come to the fore, the trombone at times sounding like a bassoon, then it plays a solo, hitting quite high. There's a duo episode for tuba and trombone that definitely reminded me of The Art Ensemble Of Chicago, especially their duets of Malachi Favors/Roscoe Mitchell, and Malachi Favors/Lester Bowie. Swinging theme again.

Closing track Urban Groovy is for this writer the least memorable moment, as a composition. There's a boss/Latin-tinged theme, quite "swing", with tuba. Fine solo by Ryan Keberle, "enveloped" by winds.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2013 | Feb. 20, 2013