"I have revered Bob Curnow and admired his accomplishments as a composer, arranger, producer, bandleader, educator, and publisher for more than three decades. Bob has stamped his unique artistic imprint upon the music world and magnified it with his character and integrity. This guy is one of the personal and professional heavyweights in the business."
Fred Sturm, Director of Jazz & Improvisational Music, Lawrence University Conservatory of Music
This collaboration of Bob Curnow’s Big Band performance and arrangements of Pat Metheny’s music is a serious musical experience, and one I believe should be heard, studied and performed by musicians and music educators. Curnow’s brilliant yet sensible orchestrations of this music are logical and very playable, while capturing the distinct signature sound of Metheny’s music.
Neil Slater, University of North Texas; Director, One O’Clock Lab Band, Professor Emeritus
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 17 years since the release of Bob Curnow’s L.A. Big Band album Music of Pat Metheny, the stellar recording that featured a dozen Curnow large jazz ensemble arrangements of Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays compositions. For that project, Bob assembled a California dream team of jazz legends including Bobby Shew, Steve Houghton, Bill Cunliffe, Don Rader, Bob Sheppard, Wayne Bergeron, Rob Lockart, and Andy Martin.
When Bob was ready to record a second volume of Metheny & Mays compositions, he granted that privilege to his Spokane-based Bob Curnow Big Band. Bob explains, “The band has been in existence for 21 years now, and there are many (maybe 8-9 guys) in the band who have been in it since its inception. The personnel have been pretty much the same for the past 5-6 years. That makes lots of things possible. There are 4 people who drive up from the University of Idaho for all gigs and rehearsals. That is a 2-hour drive each way. I never take that for granted.” Over the past five years, the BCBB has recorded 11 more Curnow renditions of Pat and Lyle works, and this disc completes the second chapter of those creative collaborations.
The CD opens with “A PLACE IN THE WORLD,” which the Pat Metheny Group recorded on the album Speaking of Now in 2002 and Speaking of Now Live a year later. In keeping with previous Curnow/PMG big band “tone poems,” this chart is eight-plus minutes of crafty arranging and virtuosic performing. Bob paints with a full spectrum of instrumental colors for over three minutes before setting the stage for Todd Delgiudice’s nimble alto improvisation. Trumpeter Andy Plamondon follows with an artfully constructed solo over mounting ensemble backgrounds, and as that section peaks, the rhythm section cuts out and the brass section blazes forth. Over the final minute, powerful contrapuntal writing cascades down to a whisper and back up again for a rousing finish. Fans familiar with Bob’s glorious treatment of The First Circle will experience the same magic in this arrangement and performance.
The Metheny Group won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album with Imaginary Day in 1999, and “FOLLOW ME” is one of the hits from that recording. Bob’s chart was commissioned by New Trier High School (Wilmette IL) and written as a tribute to jazz director Jim Warrick upon his retirement. In a unique departure from the norm of jazz arranging, Bob notated every component of this score, abandoning improvisation in favor of orchestrating Pat Metheny’s recorded guitar solo. Todd Delgiudice (alto saxophone) and Vern Sielert (trumpet) deftly tackle Pat’s lines, and the band grooves from top to bottom.
“WHEREVER YOU GO” showcases Bob’s exquisite 2010 arrangement of the Metheny/Mays composition, which is also from the Speaking of Now and Speaking of Now Live recordings. Guitarist Kyle Smith leads the rhythm section through the understated introduction and Al Gemberling steps up with a gorgeous trombone solo. The ensemble disappears to make way for Todd Delgiudice’s exceptional alto improvisation, and trumpeter Vern Sielert delivers a dazzling trumpet solo that darts in and out of Bob’s masterfully structured backgrounds. Over the two and a half minutes that follow, Bob gradually ramps the ensemble writing upward to a spectacular climax, leaving only the rhythm section to state the delicate rubato ending. It’s clear why this chart is a favorite among Bob Curnow Big Band audiences.
“JAMES” was recorded almost 30 years ago on Offramp, the PMG’s Grammy-winning third album recorded in 1982, and is one of the band’s most popular compositions. The light and airy character of the original required a sensitive arranger to re-imagine this work for big band, and Bob’s tasteful soli writing and ensemble orchestrating meets the challenge. Don Goodwin’s piano improvisation sparkles above the ensemble for a chorus and then the horns take over, fluidly rising to a convincing peak in the chart. Check out the delicious 8 bars of unaccompanied brass over the bridge of the tune a half minute from the end, and note how Bob sequences the final bars downward through a sweet triple tag.
Steeped in the grand writing tradition of the Stan Kenton Orchestra, Bob has distinguished himself as a master of the “big band epic.” Witness this arrangement of “THE GATHERING SKY,” which the PMG recorded on Speaking of Now and Speaking of Now Live. Bob captures the spirit of the original’s introduction with transparent, understated scoring. As the composition builds in intensity, the arrangement creatively adheres to that structural map without overstepping the conceptual bounds, and the band follows suit. My old buddy Rob Tapper presents a punchy, energetic trombone solo, trumpeter Vern Sielert expertly traverses a minefield of gnarly harmonies, and Todd Delgiudice generates a stunning improvisation on soprano saxophone. Drummer Michael Waldrop gets a dramatic shot, exploding with fills through gaps in the shouting ensemble, then free to go it alone out of time, and finally assigned to colorfully embellish behind a canonic ensemble ascent. The final minute revisits the flavor of the intro and rises rapidly to a colossal conclusion.
“YOU” is another selection from the PMG Speaking of Now and Speaking of Now Live albums. Bob has transformed the original composition into a ballad showcase for trombone, and Rob Tapper generates warm and lyrical interpretations of the written melodies that alternate with hip, agile blowing over the changes. Vern Sielert switches to flugelhorn for his improvisation, buoyantly double-timing the straight-eighth ballad groove throughout. Todd Delgiudice’s alto solo is a masterful dance that soars above the ensemble’s rising and falling waves of intensity. The shout chorus pushes the brass to the arrangement’s emotional pinnacle and then abruptly vanishes, leaving Rob to gently carry the chart home to its mournful end.
Pat and Lyle composed “AND THEN I KNEW” for their 1995 We Live Here album. Bob imaginatively arranged the tune’s jaunty head and sprightly upbeat groove for the large ensemble, calling upon guitarist Kyle Smith to occupy the Metheny role in the opening minute and turning to the saxophones to further sculpt the melody. The brass section takes the lead to ignite the bridge before the return to the catchy theme in the horns and guitar. Todd Delgiudice launches his alto solo with a terrific opening break and proceeds to mesmerize with almost three minutes of astonishing improvising. The horns follow with an extended workout that features patented Curnow lines towering above jabbing accompaniment figures. There’s one more inevitable recapping of the opening groove and head, and the last 20 seconds are a feverish climb toward the resolving ensemble octaves in the final bar.
“AFTERNOON,” another work from the Speaking of Now and Speaking of Now Live recordings, is a rare example of a slow, swinging Metheny composition, and it’s ideally suited for a big band rendition. Bob’s arrangement subtly adorns the lilting 12/8 melody with warm, delicate, concerted colors in low to middle registers and holds back on the ensemble’s dynamic reins from start to finish. Vern Sielert (trumpet) and Todd Delgiudice (alto) are again showcased as improvising soloists, comfortably embellishing above the gentle background textures. Placed here in the track sequence, this relaxed chart supplies a welcome opportunity to catch your breath.
The ink’s still wet on Bob’s rendition of “AS IT IS,” arranged and recorded by the BCBB earlier this year. The Pat Metheny Group recorded this in 2002 on Speaking of Now, and Bob crafted a brawny big band score over a heavy backbeat rock groove that pops and punches for over seven minutes, rarely diminishing in muscle or intensity. The highlight of the track is Gary Edighoffer’s take-no-prisoners tenor solo that slashes and burns through everything Bob tosses in his path. The final forty seconds belong to Dru Heller who detonates drum and cymbal explosions between sustained ensemble holds.
Never recorded in the studio, “CHET’S CALL” was discovered on a 1985 radio transcription of a live PMG concert at London’s Hammersmith Odeon (now the Hammersmith Apollo). Pat noted that the tune was composed for a performance with Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins and Chet Baker "that never happened." It’s a far conceptual and stylistic cry from the Metheny & Mays compositional style we know and love, and it illustrates another example of the diverse musical roots both artists have gathered. The swinging post-bop and West Coast flavor of the head and changes lend themselves perfectly to Bob’s progressive big band treatment, and alto saxophonist Todd Delgiudice brilliantly negotiates the harmonies. Drummer Michael Waldrop’s invigorating fills kick and prod the ensemble to the chart’s final ascent.
If you’ve heard Bob’s treatments of “The First Circle” and “Minuano,” you’ll know what’s in store when you hear his arrangement of “THE HEAT OF THE DAY.” The Metheny Group recorded the composition in 1997 on the album Imaginary Day, which won a Grammy Award in 1999. Bob noted, “The chart is almost 700 measures long, and it contains all of the elements that we’ve come to expect from Metheny & Mays: a Latin/fusion feel, meter changes, amazingly expressive moods, and very, very exciting music.” From the band’s opening rip and drummer Michael Waldrop’s bombastic response, this epic chart leaps out and never looks back. Vern Sielert momentarily subdues the energy and then passionately lunges forward and eventually hands off to Todd Delgiudice, who takes it all up another dramatic notch. The final two minutes are a breathless race to the finish line of this sensational tour de force.
Bravissimo Bob! Bravissimo Band!
Director of Jazz & Improvisational Music
Lawrence University Conservatory of Music
Author, Changes Over Time: The Evolution of Jazz Arranging