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The Subway Ballet by Randy Sandke and the Metatonal Big Band

Trumpeter/composer Randy Sandke's The Subway Ballet takes us, and a young dancer with her mother, from downtown to Harlem. At forty-five minutes or so with interesting stops it's still the quickest way. This musical portrait was introduced at the 92nd St Y's "Jazz in July" series in 2003. It hasn't been choreographed yet. However, if you can't visualize the dancers without the help of the liner notes you had better get your ears and that inner eye examined!

It would take a book, and there is one, to fully describe Sandke's metatonal approach which is based on "the use of chords beyond the scope of traditional harmony." This does not always make for "easy" listening (although fun to listen to) but the end result is the inventive use of big band instrumentation in various combinations. There is no piano. Vibes and the xylophone are a better fit.

We are whisked rapidly between stations on steel wheels with momentum provided by bassist Greg Cohen and the Sandke charts. The soloists have no problem with this time limitation. No surprise given their high caliber: Sandke, Wycliffe Gordon, Steven Bernstein, Ted Nash, Walt Wieskopf and Cohen.

As we board, Sandke's solo and low-register instrumentation create a threatening mood as taunting downtown punks enter. Wall Street means brokers and their music, with Jack Stuckey on bass clarinet, is stately and contained. Approaching 46th, it's diamond merchants and klezmer with special guest David Krakauer on clarinet. Then a musical encounter between a blind beggar and a Korean peddler ...trumpet and flute ... Sandke and Chuck Wilson. Swing and chaos feature a meeting of midtown career girls and those punks. Then there's a beautiful pas de deux and we depart at 125th to a vibrant mix of blues, salsa and urban dissonance.

"Music from 1988" presents four previously unreleased Sandke originals. In a quintet setting he collaborates with Gerry Niewood in a probing and down-and-dirty exploration of the blues, and the contemporary classical " How Did It Get So Late?". He then goes electric, accompanied by John Hayward on drum machine. Sandke delivers a high-energy guitar solo on "Happy Birthday Berlin" and pulls out his piccolo trumpet for the festive closer, "Realization."

The recent affiliation of this multi-faceted artist with Evening Star Records has already resulted in four exciting releases and bodes well for the musician, the label, and us, the listeners.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Randy Sandke and the Metatonal Big Band
  • CD Title: The Subway Ballet
  • Genre: Big Band / Swing
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Evening Star
  • Tracks: Watch the Closing Doors, Dance of the Downtown Punks, Electriglide, Dance of the Wall Street Brokers, Steel Wheels, Dance of the Hassidic Diamond Merchants, Making Tracks, The Blind Beggar Encounters the Korean Peddler, Momentum, Dance of the Midtown Career Women, Straphanging,Pas de Deux, Express Stop, 125th Street. Music from 1988 : Red Hook Blues, Happy Birthday Berlin, How Did It Get So Late, Realization.
  • Musicians: Randy Sandke (trumpet and flugelhorn), Chuck Wilson (alto sax, flute and piccolo), Ted Nash (alto sax and flute), Scott Robinson (tenor and soprano sax, clarinet), Walt Weiskopf (tenor sax, clarinet), Jack Stuckey (baritone sax and bass clarinet), Bob Millikan, Glenn Drewes, Steve Bernstein (trumpet),Wycliffe Gordon, John Allred, Mike Christianson, Joe Barati (trombone), Erik Charlston (vibes, xylophone and percussion), Greg Cohen (bass), John Riley (drums), special guest :David Krakauer (clarinet)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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