Bjorkestra: The Lost Banff Tracks

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I attended the Banff Jazz Workshop for Improvised Music in spring 2008, and had the amazing opportunity to have my Bjorkestra arrangements performed and recorded by several of the students taking part in the workshop.  It’s been awhile, so I don’t exactly remember the names of everyone that took part in recording these tracks, but I do remember a few: Natalie John, vocals; Mark Nelson, drums; Chris van Voorst van Beest, bass; Dan Gassin, piano; Stan Killian, tenor sax (solo on “Pluto”).

The cool thing about these recordings is that none of these tunes have been recorded in the studio previously or since.  Everyone did an excellent job, pulling it together in just a couple of rehearsals, and everyone’s enthusiasm in making this music happen was absolutely special and beautiful!

Big Time Sensuality – This arrangement was inspired by Bjork’s live version on “Post Live” from her “Live Box” collection.  The intro and outro has a classic Ellingtonian vibe, and fully exploits the energy and impact of jazz big band with an intense slow shuffle feel. 

All is Full of Love – One of the few instrumental arrangements for The Bjorkestra, this arrangement is an alto saxophone feature that I wrote for myself to perform as the soloist with the band.  It has a Gershwin-esque introduction that gives way to a jazz ballad.  The saxophone solo section goes into double time for a medium swing feel, and there’s a nice (if I may say so myself) saxophone cadenza at the end. 

Pluto – This is one of my favorite arrangements for The Bjorkestra, because of the distinct contrast between it and the original version on Bjork’s “Homogenic.”  I had the idea from the first lyric of the song, “Excuse me, but I just have to explode” to contain the energy of the arrangement into a re-harmonized and sensuous bossa-nova that has a real inner tension and pathos.  The energy and tension slowly builds to the end, where the music “explodes” into a collective free improvisation.

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Going Uptown with Dr. Billy Taylor

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I’m not really that much of a Dr. Billy Taylor fan, but I recently got hired to do a transcription of his version of Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” and I have to say I’m very impressed! Check it out on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcBL4hw4PXM.  It wasn’t apparent to me from just listening to it, but the majority of the left hand part during the melody is in tenths, sometime reaching from an Eflat to a G or a D to an F#.  He makes it sound really effortless – his hands must be huge! In order for me to play this on piano I needed to use both hands just for the left hand part.  Also, it has a very nice balance of diatonic, parallel, and chromatic voice leading.  I especially like it when Taylor goes down into the extreme low register of the piano.  The only down side (although it made it easier for me to transcribe!) is that all the A sections are identical, but I guess that makes sense since this is a very thought out approach to interpreting this song.  I guess they don’t call him “Dr.” for nothing!  I just started working on the solo section too.  Nice clean melodic bebop.  It’s nice to hear a fresh reworking of this tune!