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Billy Childs | “Labyrinth”

Labyrinth Features Compositions by Billy Childs,

Bill Cunliffe and Banks Sapnar

The Pieces Were Commissioned by Temple University and Feature Temple University Studio Orchestra and

Faculty Artists Terell Stafford and Dick Oatts

Labyrinth is Available on CD on May 17

via BCM+D Records

Bill Cunliffe’s Piece Rainforests, Banks Sapnar’s

Red Braid are Available on Digital Platforms

On May 17, BCM+D Records, the official record label of the Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University, will release Labyrinth, an album that was conceived as a way to document an outstanding performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center in April 2023. That performance centered around Billy Childs’ Labyrinth, a piece that Temple University commissioned to highlight the Temple University Studio Orchestra and two phenomenal faculty artists, Terell Stafford and Dick Oatts

Bill Cunliffe’s Rainforests was also commissioned by the Boyer College at Temple University to engage similar forces, keeping the same large ensemble and expanding the faculty group to a sextet with Bruce Barth, Mike Boone, Justin Faulkner and Tim Warfield.

With two powerful pieces already on the program, Red Braid, available today on digital platformsprovided a bit of an interlude by featuring the Temple University Jazz Band, a subset of the larger Studio Orchestra. Including Red Braid in the concert and on the album showcases a composition written by a Boyer College student and Temple University Jazz Band member, Banks Sapnar.

Billy Childs – Labyrinth

One of the most critically acclaimed pianists in contemporary jazz and among America’s most awarded and commissioned modern classical composers, Billy Childs wrote Labyrinth to feature trumpeter Terell Stafford and alto saxophonist Dick Oats. When titling the piece, which was commissioned by Temple University and features the Temple University Studio Orchestra, for big band, rhythm section and orchestra he says he was “hoping to create a maze-like sense of imbalance through constantly shifting meters.”

“I wanted the piece to start out feeling like it is in a triple meter (6/8 in this case), but actually being in multiple meters (6/8, 5/8, 2/4, and 9/8 in various configurations), thereby giving the listener, hopefully, a feeling of unpredictability while maintaining a logical continuum,” Childs says. “So, the rhythm section starts out with this asymmetrically metered groove, with various chordal punctuations from the orchestra and big band. Terell and Dick then enter with a trumpet and alto sax melody that begins with a quartal phrase and is then followed by other melodic material – these melodic fragments are used later in shout choruses and tutti passages as a means to develop the piece.”

Childs says a special challenge for him was to make big band, symphonic orchestra and small group with soloists congeal into an organic whole, from a sonic and orchestrational standpoint.

“So, in my mind, the big band took on the role of the symphonic brass and woodwind sections – at least in certain sections, like tutti passages, usually, where a lot of counterpoint and density was going on. I also included French horns, flutes and clarinets from the symphonic world because these instruments are very versatile sonically and blend well with other instruments.”

Structurally, the piece is basically in two parts: the labyrinthine first part with the shifting meters, the trumpet solo section in 6/8 and the contrapuntal tutti section; and a slower, ballad-like section, which features the alto saxophone (later joined by the trumpet). This section ends with an intense build-up solo duet with trumpet and alto sax soloing together. This leads into a drum solo in 6/8, which then brings us back to the original “labyrinthine” opening section.

Bill Cunliffe – Rainforests

While jazz pianist, composer and Grammy Award-winning arranger Bill Cunliffe continued to teach and arrange music with normal efficiency during the COVID pandemic, he says he was tapped out creatively. But Cunliffe says nothing rejuvenates a composer more than an imposing deadline, he was given one by Stafford, Music Director of Jazz Studies of Temple University’s Boyer College of Music, and Robert StrokerBoyer’s Dean and Vice Provost of the Arts.

The result was Cunliffe’s three-movement composition Rainforests, which was performed by the Temple University Studio Orchestra with Stafford, Dick Oatts, Tim Warfield, Bruce Barth, Mike Boone and Justin Faulkner, and conducted by José Luis Domínguez.

“For years, I’ve been intrigued by trees,” Cunliffe says. “Not only the trees in my neighborhood of Studio City, California, but the trees that keep us safe and healthy such as the tropical mangrove. Its tangle of roots allows the trees to handle the daily rise and fall of tides and slow the movement of tidal waters, causing sediments to build up the muddy bottom.”

Mangrove forests stabilize the coastline, reducing erosion from storm surges, currents, waves and tides, and the intricate root system makes these forests attractive to fish and other organisms seeking food and shelter from predators.

“The mangroves in the rainforests are truly the heart of our planet and help keep us alive,” Cunliffe says. “I’ve been thinking about them a lot, and the music of the tropics has always been a focus of mine, with the recordings I’ve done of Brazilian and Cuban music, samba and salsa.”

Instead of ruminating for periods of time over the musical material, the imposed deadline forced Cunliffe to accept the material immediately offered to him, like the strange child-like melodies that often appear to him after waking up from dreams.

“Rather than cast them aside,” Cunliffe says, “this time I wrote them down and, accepting the theory of Bill Dobbins, my former teacher at Eastman, that there is ‘no such thing as a bad idea,’ and started to work on carving these stones into sculptures of music I could be proud of.”

Banks Sapnar – Red Braid

Banks Sapnar says his composition Red Braid represents the love, joy and comfort that all of the amazing people in his life bring to him, and how that inspires him compositionally. Inspired by a masterclass from bassist and composer John Clayton, Sapnar arranged the composition for the Temple University Jazz Band (TUJB) in one obsessive week, before bringing it into rehearsal to read.

“This piece was first performed at the TUJB winter concert at the Temple Performing Arts Center, then shortly after at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall for the band’s set at the Jack Rudin Jazz Championship,” Sapnar says. “In the weeks leading up to the competition, the tune was workshopped and experimented with before becoming the final version it is today. Much of my musical inspiration for this arrangement came from some of my favorite big band composers such as Maria Schneider and Bob Mintzer, my love of modern American choral music, as well as modern jazz composers such as Pat Metheny, Billy Childs and Keith Jarrett.”

Sapnar notes that the piece is full of life that represents the creative spirit of the band as a whole. Sapnar also says he’s extremely grateful to renowned trumpeter and Boyer College Director of Jazz Studies Terell Stafford for the opportunity to hear and develop Red Braid, and for “believing in my music, pushing and encouraging me, and giving me the opportunity to share my original music on these amazing stages.”

Boyer College faculty Dick Oatts and Bruce Barth are Sapnar’s mentors at Temple, and Sapnar says “they do an outstanding job of fostering an environment that is endlessly supportive to creativity and new ideas.”

Billy Childs, Bill Cunliffe & Banks Sapnar · Labyrinth

BCM+D Records · Release Date: May 17, 2024

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