Wednesday, August 26, 2015

2014-2015 High School All-Stars Album

Listening to the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars begin their season in the fall is like watching a paddock full of colts all jockeying to make it to the Derby in May. These colts are the myriad of charts with which they begin their run, and from them emerge a select few that clicked and have been worked and worked for months until they shined. In other words, these sonic American Pharoahs are the tunes you hear on their double album each year.

After all of the concerts and festivals and competitions and awards, May marks studio season. The All-Stars head to the recording studio to spend a full weekend in headphones, baffling, and iso-booths, because (in case you were unaware) a jazz big band is one of the most challenging ensembles you can possibly record. Then the process of mixing and mastering begins – and if recording a jazz big band is challenging, it’s no match for mixing one. These engineers work for over a month with the band directors to make sure the recordings are faithful and clear.

As for design, this year’s album jacket was the lucky winner of several contenders; the warm/cool, chiaroscuro look reminds us of the intense span of sounds these young musicians can access.

Lastly, fully eleven of the final eighteen tracks across both albums are original arrangements or compositions. Eleven! We’ll leave you with some of our recommendations to listen closely to:

Disc 1
Track 4 – Kenny (this lush, symphonic tune was the inaugural winner of the SFJAZZ Alumni Commission Award, composed by alumnus Aaron Bahr)
Track 7 – Gesundheit! (written by pianist Matt Wong, this tune is a funk-laden imagining of the motif from the 1974 film The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3)

Disc 2
Track 6 – Must Be Bop (Combo alto player Matt Richards told us that he wrote this tune, chosen by the San Francisco Ballet School Trainees to be choreographed this spring, because there needed to be more “happy jazz”)
Track 8 – Dream On (penned by Combo trumpeter Akili Bradley, this tumbling, cascading tune is like a celebration of the trumpet)

 Be sure to pick up the 2014-2015 High School All-Stars double album (Disc 1: All-Stars Orchestra; Disc 2: All-Stars Combo) the next time you are at the Center for a show or when you are down at the Monterey Jazz Festival -- the $15 donation goes straight back to the All-Stars program.

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