In the 1960s, clarinetist-saxophonist Eddie Daniels and double bassist-composer Frank Proto were classmates at New York's High School of Performing Arts. From there, Daniels cultivated a solo career, and Proto joined the bass section of the Cincinnati Symphony, where he also served as composer-in-residence. Since the 1980s, they have collaborated on the creation of several pieces. The partnership makes sense; Daniels is one of the few truly effective crossover artists today, and Proto's music transcends boundaries of classical, jazz and contemporary music with remarkable ease.
Nominated for a Grammy Award, this recording is a premiere of Proto's newest works for clarinet and strings. The package is a special DVD-CD combination; the CD is a studio recording of the entire program, and the DVD contains a concert performance at the First Unitarian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as a video recording of some of the studio sessions. The concert consists of Proto's Sextet for clarinet and strings and his arrangements of Gershwin's songs Soon and Love is Here to Stay.
The Studio session, conducted by Proto himself, consists of his Sketches of Gershwin for clarinet and string orchestra, his Prelude No. 1 to I loves you Porgy, his Prelude No. 2 to Fascinating Rhythm, and an arrangement of The Man I love. The DVD is especially good - the camera work is superb, and there are additional features: interviews, biographies, program notes, and even scores that can be followed along with the performances.
Proto's music is both abstract and familiar - the eclecticism is in the details. He juxtaposes moments of floating and intangible harmonies with passages of intense rhythmic energy; the music recalls Third Stream, but is far more inviting. Daniels and the Ensemble sans Frontiere glide seamlessly between a classical contemporary idiom and coffee-house jazz - so much so that the listener sometimes wonders how they arrived here or there. The three adaptations of Gershwin's melodies are particularly charming; although they are written as "encores," they could work as concert pieces as well. In the last one, The Man I love, Daniels takes out his saxophone, where he proves just as skillful in both idiom and technique.
The performances and productions are first-rate, and both discs are very well recorded and edited. Most important, the music is thoroughly enjoyable and will reach beyond the usual select audience. The $22.00 price tag is well worth it.
American Record Guide
It was only a matter of time before the world of video/audio would reach The Clarinet by way of this column. It comes as an important 2007 release from Red Mark Records entitled Bridges, which features Eddie Daniels playing the music Frank Proto. The featured works presented are all pieces written for Eddie Daniels, and are indicated on the box cover to be première performances and recordings. The production consists of two discs: one an audio CD which contains two large featured works (certainly premi¸re performances) and three shorter pieces (believed to be premi¸res also), totalling 67+ minutes of music. The other disc is a DVD which contains all the above and two additional works, and more - Much more. This disc, loaded with features, has a total running time of almost two hours and 43 minutes!
Eddie Daniels needs no introduction to most readers as one of the most highly successful woodwind artists in the jazz and classical concert world. He is in top form throughout this recording project. His sound is full and lush, and technique smooth and effortless. Whether playing notated music or improvising, he beautifully maintains the character and style of Frank Proto's compositions. I can think of no better player to bring this music to the public.
Frank Proto is a experienced and accomplished composer and performer with a long history of distinguished double bass playing in the symphonic and jazz world, and a creator of many successful and popular works for various media, and ranging in styles from formal concert music, to jazz, to pop, and music for children. He had a long career as a bassist in the Cincinnati Symphony where he also served for years as composer-in-residence. His music has been performed by some of the world's leading orchestras and soloists, including Eddie Daniels. They were classmates in New York's High School of Performing Arts, and have since the 1980s collaborated on several solo pieces. Some readers may be familiar with Paganini in Metropolis with wind ensemble or orchestra. Proto's compositional voice is varied in depth and character. He always shows a musical melodic inventiveness and is a masterful and imaginative scorer. He is a composer who can write successful functional music, spanning styles of easy accessibility to deeper and more abstract musical thought. As a composer he is self taught, and has developed a keen and innate sense of melodic and harmonic practices, and also of formal structure, a quality often attributed to academic training.
This recording project to a lesser and greater extent is connected to the musical world of George Gershwin and the building of "bridges" between musical domains, and it was spawned by Gershwin's 100th birthday in 1998. While some of the music (and titles) are obviously connected to this "first crossover" composer, the first and longest work on the DVD, the Sextet for clarinet and strings, is not so obvious. In this case the piece was written with George "in mind" (don't expect any obvious Gershwin), and it is a very effective three-movement large work of just over 30 minutes. Joining Daniels are members of Ensemble Sans Frontiére: violinists Sylvia Mitchell and Paul Patterson, violist Larrie Howard, cellist Norman Johns, and the composer providing double bass. The piece is mostly planted in the classical world, but with movement into the realm of jazz improvisation, and a move which seems perfectly organic to the piece. Proto does not fall into the trap here, or in his other original pieces, of just pasting in jazz. Eddie Daniels is given opportunities to practice his improvisational skills and he does so impressively, with a sense of style appropriate to the work at hand. The performance by all is expressive and committed. This is a live concert recording from the Linton Chamber Music Series in March of 2007 at the First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati. It seems to be an ideal venue for chamber music and the recorded sound is spacious and clear. The video recording is very well planned, conceived and executed. The visual effects of this taping gives the viewer a satisfying array of images that are an effective mix of detail and full shots, and additionally make musical sense.
Two Gershwin tunes, Soon, and Love is Here to Stay, in wonderful arrangements by Proto follow the Sextet as encores. These two gems, a highlight of the disc, are not on the CD, however the DVD audio can be accessed with a universal disc player (switch to audio only).
Another DVD main menu heading Studio Orchestra Sessions brings up the other featured work programmed here, Sketches of Gershwin for clarinet and string orchestra. This 15-minute, three-movement piece is also performed by Ensemble Sans Frontiére, but this time in the form of a 21-piece ensemble conducted by Frank Proto. It is a piece, from 1998, that was composed in deference to the Gershwin centennial and turned out to be a seed for this recording project. It was never performed until the sessions heard here. Like the Sextet, these sketches are not Gershwin parodies, imitations, or the like, and one is hard put to find even a quotation, although the five-note motive of the first sketch must be Fascinating Rhythm. These pieces are original, engaging works which represent the spirit of Gershwin and his effort to fuse musical styles, and they perhaps present the direction the 38 year-old Gershwin would have pursued, had he lived another few decades. The orchestra's performance is committed and rhythmically very tight. Again Eddie Daniels' clarinet is smooth and the playing masterful. The sound engineering, which is very good, through the wonders of digital editing technique, yield a very homogeneous sonic ambiance with the Sextet sound, even though the two works were recorded in quite different venues.
Three additional encore works follow the three sketches: Prelude No. 1 to I Loves You Porgy, Prelude No. 2 to Fascinating Rhythm, and The Man I Love. These prelude pieces are not straight arrangements, but very stylized, sophisticated works for clarinet and string orchestra by Proto. The first of these is a particular favorite. Both are quite elaborate and made even tastier by Daniels' improvisations. This portion of the disc closes with a straight forward arrangement of The Man I Love, played by Daniels on tenor sax.
The DVD release is replete with additional features and information. There is a viewing music option, with which the clarinet part of the Sextet and Sketches of Gershwin can be viewed as an translucent overlay as the music is played, which at times was interesting to this viewer, but not wanted as a steady diet. This feature can be utilized or not if your player has a subtitle function. Navigating around this disc also reveals written program notes and biographical sketches, both of which are accompanied by audio clips from various Frank Proto works. In addition to the two featured artists, sketches are included of the string players of the Sextet, Ensemble Sans Frontiéres, and the accomplished videographer Steve Maslowski. A particularly entertaining feature is a two-part interview by off-screen production staff person Paul Gitelson of Frank Proto and Eddie Daniels. Some aspects of the artists' background are discussed, the relationship between the two, and also comments about this recording project and its crossover nature, as well as thoughts regarding being open to new artistic paths.
The disc additionally includes a section of samples of seven works of Frank Proto drawn from his wide ranging catalogue. The samples are from symphonic, theatrical and chamber works. Written and visual information is presented about the works accompanied by audio samples. These excepts display the impressive diversity of Frank Proto's musicianship.
This DVD/CD is heartily recommended to any listener who is interested in hearing some fresh and very American music, and also wishing to see it being made by first-rate musicians, including one of the most successful crossover soloists of our time. Audio and video quality is excellent throughout, with special kudos to the production staff. Bridges - Eddie Daniels plays the music of Frank Proto is on RED MARK DVC 200308, and is available at select dealers and from Red Mark's internet shopping site. It lists for $22.00, a modest cost considering the quality and quantity of material offered the viewer/listener.
The International Clarinet Association Journal
PROTO Clarinet Sextet. Sketches of Gershwin. 2 Preludes after Gershwin. GERSHWIN (arr. Proto) The Man I Love. Soon. Love Is Here to Stay • Eddie Daniels (cl, sax); Frank Proto, cond; Ens sans Frontière • RED MARK 200306
This set is worth the money for the few minutes at the end of the DVD, when Eddie Daniels picks up a sax for the only time on the disc, and floats his horn over Frank Proto's lush but harmonically interesting string arrangement of "The Man I Love." You'll know the tune and arrangements aplenty, but you haven't heard it done better, I'll bet. It's not muzak, but instrumental mastery of a high order, and the same goes for all of Daniels's blowing on both these discs. Remarkable, and the more so when seen as well as heard
Daniels and Proto were filmed in a small Cincinnati studio for that Gershwin chestnut, and for the Sketches . The sound quality all through the CD and the DVD is good, and sometimes very good, in the various forms. Yet the dry-looking studio still produces strings that sound as though playing in a bigger hall. All the mikes look great and expensive: it just isn't a purist production. But it is certainly warm. The Sextet was played in the round, for a small audience, which looks a bit embarrassed by the cameras. They are in the First Unitarian Church, also in Cincinnati, where Proto held down a double-bass chair at the Symphony for three decades, composing most of the while.
Before that, Proto and Daniels were contemporaries at New York's Performing Arts High School. They both headed for jazz careers, but then diverged. They talk in two long filmed interviews of humble beginnings, and of music saving lives. What they don't do on these discs is play jazz together.
Instead, Proto has composed an extended Sextet (a touch of Hindemith and Villa-Lobos), which challenges even Daniels on clarinet, as he plays with and against two violins, viola, cello, and Proto's bass. Each of the three movements begins with the same thematic material, but makes a fresh drama out of it. Proto's concert music is not "fusion," and this piece ventures into jazzy phraseology on only rare occasions, but then memorably. It's an extended musical discussion, in tribute to the soloist. The Sketches are substantial elaborations of Gershwin materials, and again, not jazz. The other short pieces are intelligent, sometimes over-elaborate arrangements, which also keep the brilliant Daniels right on his toes.
I like most of what I have heard of Frank Proto's music. I have to hoist the red flag of potential cosiness here, because Mr. Proto has also written in to say how much he likes the way I like it, in these pages, and it's clear from the DVD that he is a very nice guy. But we are total strangers on different continents, and I am more likely to be found grinding my teeth over Carter and Maxwell Davies than devouring lush Gershwin arrangements. It's a mistake to approach this set as a specimen of crossover music. Gershwin is one of the greatest composers, and Proto has not shied away from creative engagement with the greats. His double-bass solos (Red Mark 9222) took Beethoven as a starting point, and they are fine, serious works. He's an extraordinary bass-player (really, hear him). His apparent compositional freedom has annoyed some colleagues, but I find his music compelling, original, and authentically expressive. It looks as though he might be underrated in his homeland, whether as player or composer, and that won't do. If you don't like the sound of the current fairly relaxed outing, try some of the other Red Mark CDs. Mixed bags, but blame me if you don't like them.
Yes, it would be great to hear Daniels and Proto just improvise jazz with a drummer and maybe a piano. I hope they do it. But this is a "classical" release, less jazzy, in the main works, than the Copland Clarinet Concerto. On the other hand, I was made to think of that clarinet solo in the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony, how wonderful it would sound if someone (Daniels?) would swing it slightly, just once. Now there's a crossover proto-jazz solo . . .
The DVD, by the way, includes very full biographical materials on everyone, plenty of other extracts from Proto's work, plus the musical notes to the clarinet parts, viewable as subtitles. This is clearly a mixed bag too, not to be played straight through. But CD and DVD are recommended to wind-players, Gershwin lovers, Daniels fans, students of 1950s culture in New York City, and anyone who enjoys a balance of rigor and expression, in contemporary music.
This CD and DVD box set contains "world premiere performances and recordings of music written especially for clarinet virtuoso Eddie Daniels by Frank Proto." Proto and Daniels were classmates together at the High School of Performing Arts in New York in the late 1950s and this is a substantial body of new work, born of a long friendship and desire to work together. The catalyst here was the 1998 centenary of George Gershwin's death. Of special interest to bass players is the excellent Sextet for Clarinet and Strings, written in 2006 (a first rate performance of which appears as a live concert on the DVD, with a justifiable standing ovation at its conclusion) along with settings of two Gershwin standards Soon and Love is Here to Stay, also for clarinet and string quintet.
Proto has significantly enhanced the major repertoire of twentieth and twenty-first century chamber works including and featuring the double bass, and this new work is a significant new contribution. It has many of the hallmarks of Proto's style, in particular a skillful blending of jazz, contemporary and more traditional writing. There is throughout a great fluidity of ideas across a huge spectrum of stylistic influences but Gershwin, who permeates this whole project, is never far away. Proto very effectively uses the strings (two violins, viola, cello and bass) in different textural combinations with the clarinet, always skillfully avoiding clichés. It is an engaging and challenging work that deserves to become very well known.
The rest of the DVD features studio recordings of three works for clarinet and string orchestra (here conducted by the composer): Prelude No. 1 to I Loves you Porgy, Prelude No. 2 to Fascinating Rhythm and Sketchest of Gershwin for Clarinet and String Orchestra and another Gershwin encore The Man I Love. A Grammy award winner, Daniels' playing throughout is as legendary as ever. He is one of a real minority to successfully balance careers in often disparate fields of music, from his seminal work with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra to appearing as a clarinet soloist with orchestras such as the London Symphony.
The title of the box set comes from the "betwixt world - on the Bridge - between jazz and classical music." This is clearly a resident domain for both Proto and Daniels. There are extensive program and liner notes on the DVD as well as enlightening interviews with both men; the whole package is thoughtfully produced and the sound quality throughout is excellent.