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The Subway Ballet by Randy Sandke and the Metatonal Big Band

Randy Sandke’s new CD The Subway Ballet shows that he has made many musical innovations since playing with one of the greats of old time swing, Benny Goodman. There are two parts to this CD. The first is Sandke and The Metatonal Big Band playing the fourteen parts of The Subway Ballet. The second part has Sandke playing guitar, trumpet, flugelhorn, and piccolo trumpet with a small combo. Both showcase his innovative composing and playing.

The Subway Ballet is written to tell a story of a ride on the subway in New York. Sandke’s composing work uses different instruments and sounds to represent people on the subway. A group of punks, a blind beggar, and a Korean peddler are just a few of the characters portrayed in the piece. What makes the ballet different is that Sandke uses a form of harmonics called metatonal harmonics throughout most of the piece. Metatonal harmonics are, according to Sandke, "harmonies that lie beyond the scope of traditional harmony and cannot be represented by conventional chord symbols." These harmonics are different, but intriguing and provide a unique musical sound.

Even though the metatonal harmonics played by the big band and the storyline of the piece are highlighted, there are still some great solos by members of the band. Randy Sandke plays melodically and with a great tone to make his solos sound fantastic. The solos by the exceptional trombone player Wycliffe Gordon are incredible. He plays lines that are even fast for most sax players

The second part of the CD has a completely different feel. Instead of using a traditional big band setting, Sandke uses a small combo. Three out of the four songs recorded by the group have an electronic sound that distinguishes it greatly from the Subway Ballet. On "Red Hook Blues" and "Happy Berlin" Sandke takes solos on the guitar. This really showcases his musical versatility.

Overall The Subway Ballet is an outstanding CD showcasing the innovative composing of Sandke along with his exceptional playing of trumpet and guitar. The rest of the Metatonal Big Band plays tight, has great solos, and feeds off each other’s playing. I would recommend this CD to anybody that would like to expand their outlook on jazz big bands.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Randy Sandke and the Metatonal Big Band
  • CD Title: The Subway Ballet
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Evening Star Records
  • Tracks: Watch the Closing Doors, Dance of the Downtown Punks, Electriglide, Dance of the Wall Street Brokers, Steel Wheels, Dance of the Hassidic Diamond Merchants, Making Tracks, The Blind Beggar Encounters the Korean Peddler, Momentum, Dance of the Midtown Career Women, Straphanging, Pas de Deux, Express Stop, 125th Street, Red Hook Blues, Happy Birthday Berlin, How Did it Get So Late, Realization
  • Musicians: Randy Sandke (trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet, electric guitar,keyboards), Chuck Wilson (alto sax, piccolo, flute), Ted Nash (alto sax, flute), Scott Robinson (tenor and sporano sax, clarinet), Walt Weiskopf (tenor sax, clarinet), Jack Stuckey (bari sax, bass clarinet), Bob Millikan (trumpet), Glenn Drewes (trumpet), Steven Bernstein (trumpet, slide trumpet), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), John Allred (trombone), Mike Christianson (trombone), Joe Barati (bass trombone), Eric Charlston (Vibes, Xylophone, Percussion), Greg Cohen (bass), John Riley (drums), David Krakauer (solo clarinet on track 6), Jim Czak (voice of motormam), Gerry Neiwood (alto sax,flute), Jim Neely (organ,piano), John Goldsby (bass), Kenny Washington (drums), John Hayward (drum machine),
  • Rating: Five Stars
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