MP3 Broadway-Ali Ryerson, Rex Cadwallader, Mike Asetta, Arti Dixson - Music From West Side Story
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10 MP3 Songs
JAZZ: Bebop, JAZZ: Smooth Jazz
LINER NOTES BY DR. CHUCK BERG - U. of Kansas - Feb. 2003
Downbeat, JazzTimes, Jazz Educators Journal
When West Side Story opened at the Winter Garden on September 26, 1957, its reverberations echoed far beyond
Broadway. A radical revision of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, it shattered Father Knows Best complacency of
the Eisenhower years with a still dramatically compelling look at urban youth gang violence. It also gave the
American theatre a bracing melting pot score in which diverse accents peppered Leonard Bernstein's music, as well
as Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, Arthur Laurents' book, and Jerome Robbins' choreography.
Propelled by its galvanizing Broadway success and Robert Wise's hugely popular 1961 Hollywood adaptation,
West Side Story became a vital and beloved part of American popular culture. And while today appreciated by yet
another new generation thanks to theatrical revivals and DVDs, West Side Story perhaps lives on most vibrantly
through its extraordinary songs. In the genre of jazz, for example, Bernstein's dramatically rich and musically
sophisticated score has been (and continues to be) interpreted by small groups and big bands, and everything in
This West Side Story, however, is a largely different proposition. Indeed, in the inspired hands of broadway, the
talented quartet of flutist Ali Ryerson, pianist Rex Cadwallader, bassist Mike Asetta, and drummer Arti Dixson we
hear a unique instrumental approach in which the principal solo voices interact musically as well as dramatically.
Rex, the group's founder and spokesman, explains: "Ali and I approached the project as if we were the lead
characters, Tony and Maria. Our premise was that the characters would have their own musical roles, with Arti
and Mike picking up the parts of the other family and gang members." That interaction gives the performances an
unusual degree of musical empathy and emotional depth.
broadway's beginnings go back to 1996 when Ali guested on a radio show co-produced by Rex. During the next
couple of years, Ali and Rex teamed for various duo gigs along the Connecticut shore. At the same time, Rex
started planning "Broadway Jazz," a concert series that would soon involve Ali. Adding bassist Mike Asetta and
then drummer Arti Dixson, Ali and Rex decided West Side Story would be their first Broadway-based recording
venture. "West Side Story," Ali notes, "has always been a Broadway jazz score, even in Bernstein's original version.
On a more personal level, it's simply my favorite Broadway musical." Rex and Ali speak highly of their colleagues.
"Mike and I have done a lot of duo gigs together and have a great relationship. He's a dynamic bassist, and brings
tremendous energy and a love of playing to every date," says Rex. A Yale grad who's worked throughout New
England (and all over Europe with the Air Force band), Mike has also shared bandstands with drummer Arti
Dixson. "Arti has the passion and chops to drive a quartet without being overpowering," notes Rex. "Arti's worked
with Ahmad Jamal, Randy Brecker and Larry Coryell, which gives him a solid pedigree." Throughout the date, it's
clear that these shared histories have coalesced into a closely shared musical vision.
In tackling the challenges of West Side Story, Ali points out that "the recording was very much a collaborative
effort. Everyone's opinion was of equal importance." She also underscores the rationale for the quartet setting.
"If you recall the original production, you know the central role played by choreography. West Side Story is an
important vehicle for dance which, in my mind, requires the energy of a rhythm section." In preparing for the
recording, broadway's concerts were another factor. "Our live performances of West Side Story were as much a
part of the process as the recording itself. In the larger scheme of things, it's about playing with good friends. We
have fun working together!" Rex underscores broadway's egalitarian essence. "There's no star billing because from
the onset it's been a collaborative project. While I put the initial arrangements down on paper, Ali and I had a lot
of give and take about the improvisational and harmonic structures. Mike and Arti, as you might imagine, played
crucial roles in developing the rhythmic feel. At the same time, I'd be disingenuous if I didn't acknowledge the
value of having an artist of Ali's stature involved. Her voice in jazz is unique and powerful, and she brings a level
of prestige and professionalism to the recording that I value highly." Rex also brings impressive credentials to the
table, including a doctorate in jazz education, an Emmy for documentary film scoring, a bundle of published
arrangements, grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities,
ongoing participation in the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop, plus a number of recordings under his own name.
One of the project's most appealing aspects is the balance struck between Bernstein's enduring melodies and
broadway's improvisational elan, a kind of respect that is subtle, and artful. While celebrating arias such as "I
Feel Pretty" with fresh and well-crafted designs, the quartet also preserves the emotive and material cores of the
originals. An important part of such adroit shifts in musical mise en scene comes from Ali's strong yet nuanced
leading on the flute. Rex, as expressed in his supple piano work and arrangements, is likewise crucial. Indeed,
when the curtain closes on "Somewhere (There's a Place for Us)," we, like Tony and Maria, have traveled to a
point where the human spirit soars even in the face of tragedy.
The jazz soul revealed in this West Side Story is at once intimate and epic. The music in its simmering intensity,
heady romance, tenderness, and virtuosic exuberance more than speaks for itself. Its pleasures are multiple.
And it serves as another marker in the already well documented career of flutist extraordinaire Ali Ryerson.
More significantly, West Side Story marks the impressive debut of broadway, a genuinely exciting quartet
comprised of the estimable Ryerson, Rex Cadwallader, Mike Asetta and Arti Dixson, whose hand in glove
collaborations bear positive witness to Rex's inspired vision of jazzing up the Great White Way with sass,
sophistication and a dash of the sublime!
Dr. Chuck Berg, University of Kansas, February 2003
DownBeat, JazzTimes, Jazz Educators Journal
Contributor to the Oxford Companion to Jazz,
Gramophone Guide to CD
National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences
The Encyclopedia of Orson Welles
in partnership with CDbaby (ID 171791)
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