Bill Cunliffe: BACHanalia

winning pianist and arranger Bill Cunliffe breathes fresh life into The Great Baroque Songbook as he mixes Bach with bop on this impressive big band album. The band includes some of LA’s finest, including Wayne Bergeron, Terell Stafford,  Jon Daversa, Bob McChesney, Andy Martin and Ira Nepus in the brass section Jeff Driscoll, Bob Sheppard and Brian Scanlon amongst the reeds, and Larry Koonse, Jonathan Richards and Joe La Barbera in the rhythm section. Then, add the delightful Denise Donatelli for vocals on half the tracks, and you’re gonna want to hear this one multiple times.

With La Barbera’s brushes in the undertow, Donatelli delivers rich vocalese to a graceful yet swinging “Sleepers Wake” while she slithers through the bolero of “ The Three-Cornered Hat” as the horns build up to dramatic ecstasy. She scats with delight while Cunliffe and assist Alex Frank create a rich frame on “Solfeggietto” and goes clear and upbeat on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Cunliffe’s arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, entitled “Goldberg Contraption” begins with a gentle theme and with Koonse and McChesney adding clever solos, allows the orchestra to build up into a rousing extravaganza , whereas Cunlffe’s own “Afluencia” features Bob Sheppard’s soprano getting frisky and funky. Cunliffe makes five centuries of songs sound completely modern.

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