Randy Sandke’s new CD The Subway Ballet shows that he has made many musical innovations since playing with one of the greats of old time swing, Benny Goodman. There are two parts to this CD. The first is Sandke and The Metatonal Big Band playing the fourteen parts of The Subway Ballet. The second part has Sandke playing guitar, trumpet, flugelhorn, and piccolo trumpet with a small combo. Both showcase his innovative composing and playing.
The Subway Ballet is written to tell a story of a ride on the subway in New York. Sandke’s composing work uses different instruments and sounds to represent people on the subway. A group of punks, a blind beggar, and a Korean peddler are just a few of the characters portrayed in the piece. What makes the ballet different is that Sandke uses a form of harmonics called metatonal harmonics throughout most of the piece. Metatonal harmonics are, according to Sandke, "harmonies that lie beyond the scope of traditional harmony and cannot be represented by conventional chord symbols." These harmonics are different, but intriguing and provide a unique musical sound.
Even though the metatonal harmonics played by the big band and the storyline of the piece are highlighted, there are still some great solos by members of the band. Randy Sandke plays melodically and with a great tone to make his solos sound fantastic. The solos by the exceptional trombone player Wycliffe Gordon are incredible. He plays lines that are even fast for most sax players
The second part of the CD has a completely different feel. Instead of using a traditional big band setting, Sandke uses a small combo. Three out of the four songs recorded by the group have an electronic sound that distinguishes it greatly from the Subway Ballet. On "Red Hook Blues" and "Happy Berlin" Sandke takes solos on the guitar. This really showcases his musical versatility.
Overall The Subway Ballet is an outstanding CD showcasing the innovative composing of Sandke along with his exceptional playing of trumpet and guitar. The rest of the Metatonal Big Band plays tight, has great solos, and feeds off each other’s playing. I would recommend this CD to anybody that would like to expand their outlook on jazz big bands.