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Sunday, October 30, 2011
CD Review: Changing Seasons - PHIL DWYER ORCH. Featuring Mark Fewer
Style: Big Band With Strings
Label: ALMA Records
Musicians: Strings Conducted by Mark Fewer; Big Band Conducted by Phil Dwyer.
CD Review: Peter Cardinali and ALMA Records have firmly established a commitment to produce high quality music by extremely talented musicians, and have courageously positioned themselves in the vanguard of outlets for forward-moving, innovative and exciting musical adventures. Their recent outstanding and varied productions such as: "Cuban Rhapsody" featuring classically trained soprano saxophonist/flautist Jane Bunnett and virtuoso pianist Hilario Duran; "Les Doigts de L'Homme." A tribute to Django Reinhardt; Vitto Rezza & 5 After 4: "Rome In a Day;" Pianist Chris Donnelly"Metamorphosis;""Catch A Corner" featuring B3 Organist Joey DeFracesco; and now "Changing Seasons" with the Phil Dwyer Orchestra featuring internationally renowned violin virtuoso Mark Fewer with strings, further solidifies their standing as a label with impeccable tastes and splendidly discerning musical eyes and ears.
As the name implies, the CD is divided into four movements generally depicting the changing of the seasons: Spring; Summer; Autumn; Winter. However, composer Phil Dwyer, a mainstay on the Canadian and International scene, and an artist about whom the the late, great Canadian piano master, Oscar Peterson observed: "Phil Dwyer, in my estimation, is one of the great tenor players of jazz...It would be difficult to overestimate the natural talent and commitment of this artist," provides a wider, more insightful lens through which to examine his deeper understanding and queries concerning "change." He elaborates: "Changing weather, changing climatic conditions, the changing economic structure of the world, and some big changes in my own life." It would seem that this wide array of concerns would resonate with most, endow his music with a sense of purpose and immediacy, bequeathing it with palpable anticipation, excitement and a need to be heard.
Mark Fewer's violin is crucial to this date. His playing is precise, at times lyrical, intimately heartfelt. It provides the critical persuasive voice that allows the seamless, intangible musical transitions to take place between the 'changing seasons'. It stands above the string section, lighthouse tall, unwaveringly distinct, as the harbinger and arbiter of the motion of seasonal nuances that enter the mind's eye in the space inhabited by silence, and subliminal impressions. It soars, sings, predicts, colors, and feeds the senses with a clarity and subtlety that is stunning in its effectiveness.
"Spring" begins as Spring usually begins, quietly and pleasing, as heard in the flowing airiness of Mark Fewer's violin; a prelude to the brisk, breeze-like motion of the strings, and the lush, melodic sounds of the larger band. The horns bloom like the season's early flowers, as the violins flit between them like new, young birds. The heart of the band beats steadily in the rhythm section of Phil Dwyer's piano, bassist Ken Lister, and drummer Jon Wikan, as violin and strings return to smooth the passage into "Summer," and signal the end of the previous Winter. There is noticeable buoyancy in the approach of 'Summer.' Fewer's violin is relaxed and fluid. It is a season that expresses itself poignantly out of Dwyer's unhurried saxophone and into the participatory conversation with Walter White's trumpet, Ian McDougal and Al Kay's trombones and the piano, bass and drums of Chris Gestrin, Ken Lister and Jon Wikan, respectively.
"Autumn" is replete with multi colors and sweeping panoramas. The strings treat it as a temporary continuation of a lingering Summer season; but slowly the band begins to unfurl its colors as the violins delineate the contours and sharpen the distinguishing features; the meter slows almost to a "chill," the violas, horns and percussion react: "Winter" is here.
"Winter" is where full symphonic expression occurs; where the two performing cores of the aggregation take flight: one anchored by the sinewed elasticity of the string section; the other, by roving, big band muscularity. It is where composer/bandleader Dwyer shows true genius in the form and arrangement he employs to compact the power and force of the entire orchestra into spectacular complimentary cohesion, from which energy flows smoothly to all sections; reducing the listener to silent awe, and unveiling the season with the most striking physical changes; the most transformational for mankind. But a season of joy and goodwill towards men and women; a time when the world pauses and re-defines itself; a time for giving without reservation or condition; when 'love' renews its currency and the light in our children's eyes illuminates our way forward into a changing, demanding, uncertain world, putting a sweet song in our hearts, and upon our lips. These treasures are found in the final movement called "Winter." It is atop this musical mountain of joy and change, that the senses gain respite to drink in a panoramic vista of hope and possibility; bringing to an end, an ambitious musical endeavor, which band leader Phil Dwyer describes as "my most ambitious project yet, without a doubt."
In agreement is producer Peter Cardinali, who correctly states, "there is not much brave new music being written. I see this as very appealing for orchestras around the world."
Track Listing: Spring; Summer; Autumn; Winter.
Produced by Peter Cardinali
Recorded by Sheldon Zaharko
Mixed by John "Beetle" Bailey
In association with the Hard Rubber New Music Society