Jazz music has its eccentrics and its masterminds and sometimes the two are interchangeable like in the case of saxophonist Frank Macchia, who had the eccentric idea to take a room full of top-notch saxophonists, including himself, and have them play a handful of tunes traditionally played by swing-jazz orchestras. But in this case, the saxophonists are the main event and only accompanied by one drummer Peter Erskine, best known as the drummer in the popular jazz outfit Weather Report. The result is a masterful collection of ballads, samba-swing and Creole-seasoned tunage on Macchia’s latest release Saxolollapalooza. With all tracks arranged and produced by Macchia, he is a formidable force in jazz music and one of the easiest guys to take orders from even when his concepts for the arrangements are vastly different from what has been customarily done with them before.
Somehow all egos where left at the door when Macchia assembled his brigade of saxophone players comprising of Eric Marienthal, Bob Sheppard, Gene Cipriano, Sal Lozano, and Jay Mason along with Erskine for the recording. The saxophones reach a big band howl and frisky splashing in tracks like "Air Mail Special" and "That’s A-Plenty" along with a spunky rapport in "Java" that prompts a jovial activity with exchanges volleying back and forth between the musicians. There are a lot of call and response segments in the arrangements, which create spontaneity and organic ruptures even through the slow sensually drooling phrases of "Creole Love Song." The tune beats with a lover’s pulse and has a nocturnal shadowing, which also fodders the sinuous lines and torchlight glow of "My One And Only True Love" featuring a lewd solo by Gene Cipriano that sends shivers up and down the listener’s spine.
Many numbers may feel familiar like the sprinting gallops running along "Shortenin’ Bread" which may remind fans of the rendition performed by Mel Brooks in the Bugs Bunny Cartoon, and the gospel psalm "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" which has more joviality in its exchanges than is customarily done in this song. "Work Song" has a spy-jazz feel that resembles the theme songs showcased in the TV-series Get Smart, and the urban-tinged swing-jazz curls of "Working Day And Night" have a modern glint reflective of modern casino-style jazz. The twinkle in the horns along "Down By The Riverside" have a similar cadence to Woody Guthrie‘s "This Land Is Your Land," but it’s the percolating samba beats and squiggly lines of "Caravan" that show the choir of saxophones in a sultry light and express their ministrations with heady, seductive tango-style turns and twists.
Saxolollapalooza takes the old out of old fashioned jazz. The arrangements put big band swing on a pedestal while changing its content so the melodies are focused on the call and responses that go on between the saxophones. It takes an unconventional mind to think of this, but the result is one that the masters of jazz have to admit is laudable and startling good.