Adding strings and making it work
From the Summer 2003 issue.
By Jim Snidero
Milestone / Fantasy Records: 2003
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Jazz guys having a go at working with the strings is nothing new. The standard is Charlie Parker's "With Strings, Complete" on Verve Records. That set, the brainchild of legendary producer Norm Granz, showcased Parker's unparalleled alto sax, backed by the lush harmonics more often associated with the classical sound. There are other notable "with strings" efforts out there. Granz did several more, two with Ellington tenorist Ben Webster, and one with another Duke player, baritone sax man Harry Carney. Then there was Columbia Records' somewhat less successful outing with trumpeter Chet Baker ("Chet Baker with Strings"), and altoist Art Pepper's "Winter Moon" on Galaxy Records, to name some of the more prominent of the genre.
The point being, the bar is set high for a project of this sort, especially in light of the fact that most jazz players have no experience working with a string section.
Which didn't stop alto saxophonist Jim Snidero, whose own "Strings" set surpasses all of the previously mentioned albums the lone exception being, of course Charlie Parker's.
All of the aforementioned "with strings" albums stuck to a similar format. A jazz rhythm section backed by a string section playing standards. Snidero, though, wrote six of the eight tunes on this disc, and also remarkable since he had no experience at this wrote all of the string arrangements himself.
Apart from Snidero's original compositions which are wonderful vehicles, many of which sound like classics there are a few more facets that make this set stand out. Snidero chose to use less than a full orchestra six violin, two violas and two cellos a sound that is full and lush without overpowering, and he allows for a couple of truly beautiful solo slots for his cellists and violins. In addition, his rhythm section Renee Rosnes on piano; Paul Gill, bass; Billy Drummond, drums are perfectly suited for this type of outing, all having the ability to play with a light touch that fits right in.
But the biggest plus is Snidero's inventive playing and alto tone. His sound has a ringing, rather hollow feel to it that the strings just seem to want to caress and again, credit his arranging skills here. Snidero's been playing professionally for more than twenty years now, but his profile hasn't been a high one. "Strings" should fix that as i will undoubtedly and deservedly show up in the year end Best Jazz CD of The Year lists.
Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.