Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ali Ryerson: Game Changer

Capri Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Game Changer

Flutes didn’t become a common jazz instrument until the latter years of the big band era, when members of the reed sections added it to their arsenal of horns. But once the flute appeared, it became essential; the soft, airy sound produced by the various tonal models had a marvelous impact on the way the band sounded. This emergence of flutes also prompted the creation of arrangements that were more complex and interesting, both for the musicians and the audience.

This album’s featured orchestra consists of 16 flautists backed by a rhythm section of piano, bass and drums. Five different flute models are utilized: C and alto, bass, piccolo and contrabass. Most of the musicians are fluent on more than one model. The arrangements replace the usual brass section horns with the reed instruments, producing a softer, less brilliant sound. This results in more balladic, and danceable meters. Don’t be fooled, though; this is jazz, and it swings every bit as much as the bands and combos that use brass horns.

A casual read through the liner notes reveals no indication of artists who use flutes as a “secondary” instrument. This cadre is composed of pure flautists; as a result, only true “flute groupies” are apt to recognize any names. That said, all of these players know and enjoy jazz; just listen to their solos and ensemble phrasing. (Needless to say, Ryerson’s great rhythm section — Mark Levine, Rufus Reid and Akira Tana — doesn’t hurt!) 

But don’t take my word for it; give this album a listen. As the title promises, it’s a true game changer!

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