By Chuck Reider
Join the Reno Jazz Orchestra (RJO) 7/30 at the Hawkins Amphitheater in Bartley Ranch or 8/2 at Sand Harbor as a part of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival’s Monday night series to hear us perform the music of Earth, Wind, and Fire (EWF).
There you can pick up our brand-new CD “Spirits” featuring the music of EWF. It is the culmination of great recording sessions and studio polishing over the course of nine months. The title “Spirits” is a reflection EWF’s music expressing hope, inspiration, and joy.
It is this spirit we wish to share as it is the perfect elixir to re-engage with the world. Many of these songs you will know (and sing along) others might be new to your ears. Come to the concerts, sing along to your favorites, and pick up a CD.
Some tracks are very much like the original recording while others are new interpretations. The art of big band arranging requires creativity, technical skills to write parts for the full big band (this case eighteen pieces), patience (lots of work!), and being able to decide what stays from the original recording and what new material to add.
Taking a piece recorded by seven to ten musicians to eighteen means lots of new material! Orchestration is another consideration. Here is an example, suppose a synthesizer or guitar on the original recording plays an important musical line. Should the arranger keep it with a synthesizer for the arrangement or assign it to the trumpets? Orchestration is the art of assigning notes to instruments to create color and effect. Only a handful of big band arrangers like Nelson Riddle, Sammy Nestico, and Quincy Jones became widely recognized. In the classical world Maurice Ravel was a master. Let me introduce you to one of the arrangers.
RJO trumpeter and composer Julien Knowles arranged four of the eleven pieces; “In the Stone”, “After the Love Has Gone”, “Reasons”, and “Spirit”. Each arrangement he captured the feel and groove of the original recording, but using the art of orchestration, he created a much richer palette of sound. A wonderful example is the introduction to “Spirit”, the last piece of the album. The original recording starts with synthesizer and electric piano. Knowles took that “lick”, extended it and had the trombones and woodwinds (flutes, clarinets, and bass clarinet) double the acoustic piano.
He knows when to add new horn parts such as a saxophone line to highlight the band and not get in the way of the vocals. In “After the Love” he uses a pyramid of horns for great effect. Think of a single melodic line that is split between eight instruments each with staggered entrances. Very tricky for the horns to perform as their entrances have to be absolutely accurate or the result will be an unpleasant blur! “Reasons” I encouraged Knowles to think a bit out of the box. He felt the original feel and groove were too iconic to change but instead he added a completely new introduction and ending again for wonderful effect. FYI, shortly after performing with us for these concerts Knowles is moving to Los Angeles to study at the prestigious Hancock Institute (yes Herbie Hancock). Delayed one year because of COVID. We wish him well.
There are so many great elements to our album “Spirits” you need to check them out. Enjoy the vocals, solos, and the big band performance and then listen a little deeper. One thing to listen for is the spatial placement of all the singers and instruments. Engineer Mike Eardley and I spent a lot of studio time making sure you can hear every part. The horns for example, trombones a bit to the left, trumpets in the center and the saxes to the right. Each has a space in the mix. As I said at the top, the music of EWF is a great way to re-enter the world after COVID so come see us and experience the “spirit”.
For concert tickets and more info about the video and CD visit our website www.renojazzorchestra.org
Chuck Reider is the Executive Director of the Reno Jazz Orchestra.