Two-time Grammy nominated composer and arranger Frank Macchia has put together quite a little crew for himself, collecting five of Los Angeles’ best saxophonists and adding former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine for an extravaganza of epic proportions that can only rightly be called Saxolollapalooza.
Macchia, who’s a hell of a saxophonist in his own right, joins Eric Marienthal, Gene Ciptriano, Sal Lozano, Jay Mason, Erskine, and Bob Sheppard for this woodwind-plus-drums force of nature.
The resulting album, the aforementioned Saxolollapalooza, is a blast of white hot energy sparkling with pithy reverberation and exquisite arrangements. At times drenched in New Orleans second line, and at others brimming with samba and funk, Macchia’s moves with the sax sextet are delightful.
In many ways, listening to Saxolollapalooza feels so natural that it’s like sitting in on a private booze-soaked jam session. The tunes are jolly, affecting, cool, and always enjoyable. Macchia’s compositions flicker with passion and confidence, granting each instrument a chance to poke through the surface and give ‘em hell.
“Working Day and Night” is a perfect example. Brimming with funk and purpose, this little number comes from the Michael Jackson tune with one of the best grooves in all of music. Macchia’s arranged things to give each player his own spot and the results are flat-out fun and ultimately smile-inducing.
Benny Goodman’s “Air Mail Special,” the first cut on Saxolollapalooza, blasts out of the gates with Erskine dropping a solid, controlled beat behind a vast net of alto, soprano, tenor, and bass sax sounds. Erskine holds it down again on “Down by the Riverside,” a soulful jam that carries on right out of New Orleans with fervour and six hundred pounds of get-up-and-go.
Then there’s the old spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” which is given a sizzling rendition by the sextet. And the bluesy swell of “Caravan” pulsates with sweltering heat.
In Saxolollapalooza, Macchia’s created something special. The project saw its birth way back in 1990 when Frank picked up a bass sax in San Francisco and decided to arrange music for a bizarre sort of contemporary jazz band. After shoving it in the attic for a number of years, Macchia’s rediscovery is much to our benefit.
Saxolollapalooza is divine joy, a tremendously cheerful and substantial treat that resonates with power and the flawless skill of these marvellous musicians.