The four-headed creature known as Joe Fiedler’s Big Sackbut is a rare creature indeed. With just four low brass instruments, this animal can make music that shrieks, howls, and purrs, all with an unrelenting energy and groove. Like all rare species, Big Sackbut has a fascinating evolutionary tree. Trombonist-leader Joe Fiedler illuminates that tree with a curated playlist of tunes from Big Sackbut’s ancestors: the group’s musical DNA — Kevin Laskey
1. “Hattie Wall,” World Saxophone Quartet
I’m pretty sure “Hattie Wall” was the first tune of the World Saxophone Quartet that I ever heard. It was their theme song and they would walk onstage playing it. The sheer power and authority with which all four of those guys played—the raw energy and the rhythmical cadence—was so stunning. It just hit me in the gut. I was hooked.
It’s such a simple tune and they could riff on that for ten minutes before going on to the solo section. Hamiet Bluiett would keep this Afro-Caribbean clave thing going. It would keep cycling and cycling; it was hypnotic. The way that the top three voices would improvise together and play off what everyone else was doing was just magical. They were so in tune with how each other was as an improviser.
2. “Let’s Get it On,” World Saxophone Quartet
One thing that drew me to this piece was the individual line writing. There was so much angular motion and I wanted to see how it all fit together. Some of the harmonies were really unusual, which was a real trademark of Julius Hemphill’s arrangements.
If the guys were more traditional players, it would be easier to make out everything that was going on. Each of those guys puts such a strong personal vibe on his part. There’s all this scooping and swirling into and between notes. It’s not like a section in a big band where everyone has to follow the interpretation of the lead alto saxophone player. Even if David Murray is playing a secondary voice, an inner part, he’s playing it as if it’s its own melody and he’s the one in charge. Having these four distinct interpretations of the lines is more satisfying to me than just deferring to the main melody.
3. “Spiritual Chairs,” Julius Hemphill Sextet
This tune is one of my favorites because of the soul of it. It’s quite a bit different than “Let’s Get it On” because you basically have five guys playing a rhythmic accompaniment for the one soloist. But there’s such a physical commitment to the team. It’s a long, long tune and they have their horns in their mouths the entire time. In a group like this, the rhythmic energy is coming from each individual player, so no one can slack off. The group is packed with guys like Tim Berne, James Carter, and Fred Ho; you couldn’t do this piece with lesser players.
I also love how in the middle of the tune before the piece changes direction, there’s an unaccompanied solo. I love listening to players who have the conviction to blow over that space and make a meaningful statement—not just a cadenza where they run scales. In a group like a saxophone quartet or a trombone quartet, there’s a lot of sameness in terms of sound; there’s not the same timbral sweep of a horn to a piano to a bass. Having an unaccompanied solo helps change up the color of the piece and lets the music breathe.
4. “Hard Times,” 29th Street Saxophone Quartet
This is really different from what drew me to the World Saxophone Quartet. As an arranger/orchestrator, I really love how they approach standards and covers and put their own stamp on them. There’s a lot of creative thought in the writing. To me, they function more like a mini-big band, where there’s always a background and riff behind the melody. Overall, it’s much more smooth and polished. I really like how they change textures and change the flow behind the soloist. I don’t do a ton of covers myself, but there are definitely ways of reimagining the original song that I’ve used in my own work.
And Bobby Watson is just so killer on these records.
Joe Fiedler’s Big Sackbut plays The Jazz Gallery on Friday, October 3rd, 2014. The group features Joe Fiedler, Luis Bonilla, and Ryan Keberle on trombone and Jose Davila on tuba. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m., $22 general admission ($12 for Members). Purchase tickets here.
Please note that sets are at 8 and 10 pm., our new set times starting in September.