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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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Courtesy of Mario Castro. Design by Lydia Liebman.

Saxophonist Mario Castro was a part of some of the most memorable moments at The Jazz Gallery in 2014—whether cutting his teeth with Miguel Zenon during our mentorship series or presenting music from his new album, Estrella de Mar (Interrobang Records)—so it’s only appropriate that we bring him back this coming Saturday, at the start of 2015. Estrella has garnered major praise from Nextbop, All About Jazz, and was recently named “Album of the Week” by Latin Jazz Network. You can also read our interview with Mario about the album here.

Once again, Castro will be presenting music for his quintet with strings. To whet your appetite for the sound of saxophone and strings, here’s a playlist of great string-based pieces from across the history of jazz.

Just Friends – Charlie Parker – Bird with Strings

Produced by jazz impresario Norman Granz in 1949-50, Charlie Parker’s two Bird with Strings records were the best-selling of his career. However, the records weren’t a simple commercial cop-out by the record company: according to biographical sources, Parker himself had long desired to record with a string section. While a lot of pop orchestral recordings from this era sound intensely dated now, Parker propels the idiom to new heights, the strings bathing Parker’s inimitable lines in a lush, hazy light.

I’m Late, I’m Late – Stan Getz – Focus

In interviews, Stan Getz noted that his 1961 album Focus was his favorite recording to make. A suite for saxophone and string orchestra composed by Eddie Sauter, Getz improvised his whole part, weaving in and out of Sauter’s piquant string writing. The opening track, “I’m Late, I’m Late,” was composed by Sauter as a tribute to his former mentor Bela Bartok—the theme is nearly identical to one from Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste. On this track, Getz’s solos are launched into the stratosphere by some furious drumming by Roy Haynes.

The Bird Dances – Patrick Zimmerli – Phoenix

Patrick Zimmerli is a saxophonist and composer whose work consistently bridges the gap between jazz and contemporary classical music. He won the first ever Thelonious Monk Composition Competition in 1993, and has arranged for the likes of Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, and Luciana Souza. “The Bird Dances,” from Zimmerli’s 2005 album Phoenix, puts the string quartet in the foreground, propelling the groove forward and trading barbs with Zimmerli’s soprano sax and Satoshi Takeishi’s percussion.

Super 8 – Bill Frisell – Big Sur

Throughout most of his career, guitarist Bill Frisell has deconstructed the notion of Americana music, placing the traditions of Aaron Copland, Sonny Rollins, and Bob Dylan on a single musical continuum. More recently, on albums like Richter 858 and Big Sur, Frisell deconstructs the notion of the classical string quartet, substituting his guitar for a violin and breaking down barriers between the notated and the improvised. On the tune “Super 8,” composed in a cabin in Bir Sur, California, the string trio of Jenny Scheinman, Eyvind Kang, and Hank Roberts becomes a shapeshifter, constantly reframing Frisell’s joyous theme with new textures.

Estrella De Mar – Mario Castro – Estrella De Mar

At the age of 26, Mario Castro has already made a strong addition to the jazz + strings canon. The title track off his new album is buoyant and infectious, culminating in a cathartic, slow-burning solo from Castro that rides the string pads like a world-class surfer. The Jazz Gallery is proud to present Castro’s exciting and imaginative music this Saturday, January 24th.

Mario Castro’s Quintet with Strings performs at The Jazz Gallery on Saturday, January 24th, 2015. The quintet features Castro on saxophone, Josh Shpack on trumpet, KyuMin Shim on piano, John Benitez on bass, and Jonathan Pinson on drums. The string section features Kailey Shaffer and Leonor Falcón on violin, Allyson Clare on viola, and Brian Sanders on cello. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m. $22 general admission ($12 for members)Purchase tickets here.