After the 2011 donation of the independent Chiaroscuro Records and its catalog to Northeastern Pennsylvania public radio’s WVIA, the station had access to approximately 200 masters of studio recordings and live performances from some of the best known names in jazz. Chiaroscuro’s roster had included such giants as Earl “Fatha” Hines, Mary Lou Williams, Gerry Mulligan, and Zoot Sims, just to name a few. Taking advantage of the gift, WVIA proceeded to do its best to cultivate the company’s growth, one that their website explains has always been “in part a rescue operation.” Their online library lists 131 of the albums from the Chiaroscuro catalog still available for sale.
Of course, the best way to foster the growth of Chiaroscuro would be to foster the growth of jazz. In 2012 WVIA initiated “The Chiaroscuro Channel” which not only makes fine jazz available in the station’s broadcast area, but is available for streaming on the Internet and on mobile apps.
But perhaps even more notably, they have now moved to produce some new work for release on the label. Under the direction of George Graham, WVIA jazz host and Chiaroscuro’s A & R Director, they have made for sale the first new additions to the catalog since the donation. Released in September were New Celebration, which features saxophonist Phil Woods and the 18-piece Festival Orchestra, and pianist Bill Mays’ Inventions Trio’s Life’s a Movie.
Eight of the Woods album’s 10 tracks are his own compositions. They swing open with a rousing “Bop’n Bob Don’t Stop” before moving into a number of tribute pieces: “Hank Jones” and “Goodbye Mr. Pepper,” “Get Bird’s Word” and “Ballad for Hank,” the latter in memory of clarinetist Hank D’Amico. Woods’ arrangements focus on tight section work integrated with dynamic solos. It is classic orchestral jazz and makes the most of its big sound. The set closes with Johnny Mandel’s “Here’s to Alvy,” a tribute to saxophonist Al Cohn featuring the tenor saxophones of Bob Keller and Tom Hamilton, followed by Cohn’s own arrangement of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” which spotlight’s a vocal solo by Najwa Parkins.
The Inventions Trio consists of Mays, cellist Alisa Horn and Marvin Stamm on trumpet and flugelhorn. The album opens with four Bill Evans compositions: a solo piano version of “My Bells,” “Interplay,” a soulful cello intro to “Turn Out the Stars” and finally the iconic “Waltz For Debby.” They bookend the set with three Thelonious Monk covers: “Trinkle, Tinkle,” “Pannonica,” and finally a boozy take on “Straight, No Chaser.” Between the two piano homages, they take a short detour to “Spain” via Chick Corea after a short visit to Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, the classical guitar piece that has become a favorite for jazz musicians since Sketches of Spain. There is also the four-movement original Mays composition that gives the album its name, “Life’s a Movie: Four Cues in Search of a Film,” a decidedly modernistic soundtrack.
The maintenance of the Chiaroscuro catalog and the creation of the Chiaroscuro Channel have made it clear the decision to put Chiaroscuro Records in the hands of WVIA was a good one. If these new albums are any indication of what’s to come, the decision was a great one.