The first time I heard the name CLARE FISCHER was on the Dizzy Gillespie LP “Dizzy Gillespie Plays Duke Ellington.” It was on Verve and it was s freebee given to Down Beat subscribers, of which I was one. I thought he was a she. I also heard lots of gaffs, spaces, dissonances and Ellington and Strayhorn played in a manner in which I was unaccustomed. (“Chelsea Bridge” remains a favorite chart.) I was in high school and still a neophyte jazz listener. It was an ear-and-mind-opening experience.

I quickly learned the “gaffs” were intentional as were the spaces and the dissonances. I was so entranced that I wrote to DB editor John Tynan for the (unlisted) personnel and information as to where I might find more of this arranger. Tynan responded via postcard and I found myself in a world of intricate sounds not only arranging, but full blown compositions. I tried some out on the piano but the rhythmic patterns were too complex for that young mind and my small group of band mate friends.

On February 28, 2014 Manhattan School of Music, in another of their tributes, conductor and guru of the school’s Jazz Orchestra Justin DiCioccio offered up a complete rendering of Fischer’s Extension plus two other selections from the Fischer book, Pavillion and Funquiado.

Coincidentally. Fischcr’s son Brent produced two CDs of his father’s music: “Music For Strings Percussion And The Rest,” and “After The Rain, Concert Originals.” The former includes the Grammy Winning Pensamientos For Solo Alto Saxophone and Chamber Orchestra. Suddenly I was engulfed in a sea of Dr. Clare Fischer.

The MSM Jazz Orchestra was filled with instruments unusual to jazz, in fact unusual even to orchestras in general. In addition to french horns with mutes, there were contrabassoons, contrabass clarinets, sopranino sax, two other kinds of clarinets in different keys plus tuba. Perhaps orchestra is not the right word for this band as there were no strings but mostly jazz band configurations: trombones, trumpets, horns and a rhythm section comprising as many as six players.

The opening movement of Extension, “Igor,” featured one of those rhythm section components, vibes, followed by “Quiet Dawn” with muted french horns. The next section, the beautiful “Bittersweet” contrasted with the succeeding “Canto Africano.” “Canto” was “polymetric” said my partner in this visit, pianist Mike Longo. “5/4 x 2, 4 and 3,” he went on to explain.

Another time change and we’re into “Soloette and Passacaglia” this time in 3/4 with a tenor sax solo interlude. I’m very glad I carefully took notes as so much time has elapsed between hearing and writing (other business; apologia).

Reeds return for “Ornithardy” (alto and tenor saxes) with flugelhorns added for contrast. The title movement, “Extension,” featured another tenor solo.

Thus ended the Extension part of the program. As printed “encores” were two Fischer classics. “Pavillion,” (“butertfly”) from his Ritmo LP, featured the standard big band configuration, if anything by Fischer could be called standard. Also from Ritmo came “Funquiado.” with fiery solo work by trumpet, trombone. alto and the trumpet section.

This Extension, the MSM Jazz Orchestration, was its premier performance. It’s hard to believe this work has been under wraps for this long. Now, thanks to DiCioccio, it’s it the MSM Library and can be pulled out at any time. It’s these kinds of things that keep me and my musical colleagues coming back to MSM. Kudos.

© arnold jay smith April 2014

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