The Galapagos Suite / Frank Macchia
Contemporary Jazz Suite in Six Movements
Frank Macchia's release, The Galapagos Suite, is a contemporary jazz suite in six movements featuring such jazz luminaries as pianist Billy Childs, guitarist Grant Geissman, trombonist Bruce Fowler and flautist Valarie King.
Composed by Macchia after a trip to the Galapagos Islands, each movement focuses on a particular species that inhabit these beautiful and historic islands such as The Birds of Tower, The Iguanas of Fernandina, and The Sea Lions of Isabela. This contemporary jazz instrumental album uses a full orchestration of strings and percussion samples in addition to Macchia's own woodwind and ethnic flutes.
About The Galapagos Suite
In August of 2001 my wife Tracy and I started a twelve-day adventure to a cluster of isolated islands off of Ecuador called the Galapagos. What made the trip even more exciting was Tracy was four months pregnant with our son, Charlie. We sailed on a beautiful yacht called the Sagitta, and had daily excursions to several of the islands. I kept a journal of the daily sights and animals that I felt were unique. As we were sailing I began to conceptualize a piece of music that would evoke the experience of these islands Here then is my Galapagos Suite.
1. The Birds of Tower Island - Red-footed boobies, finches, mockingbirds, frigate birds, albatross and cormorants are just some of the many varieties of birds that inhabit Tower. It's one of the northern-most islands in the archipelago, and it is home to thousands of birds, which all live together on this amazing island with high cliffs and thrashing bays.This piece depicts an aerial entry to the island from a bird's eye point of view. We then progress to the main theme of the piece and after a brief ceramic flute solo (depicting a bird in search of food), a piano solo by Billy Childs ensues, depicting the daily dance of the birds. Then we return to the main theme and a coda that takes us away with a flute solo as our bird flies from the island.
2. The Iguanas of Fernandina - There are two varieties of iguanas in the Galapagos: land and marine. Land Iguanas are generally yellowish in color and reside towards the interior of the island. Marine iguanas are a special species known primarily in the Galapagos. Their thick, scaly reptilian skin has a bluish-black color, sometimes with red hues thrown in. What makes the marine iguana unique is its ability to spend much of its time underwater, feeding off algae. It can slow its metabolism down and essentially hold its breath underwater for a number of minutes! The music for this movement starts with a prologue of textures to give the feeling of the iguanas lying on the rocks, absorbing the sun. A medium tempo emerges as the iguanas slowly walk atop one another to get a better space on the beach to work on their tans! Finally, as the tempo accelerandos, a group of iguanas ease into the water to cool down midday, portrayed by Valarie King's flute ensemble soli. A bass clarinet solo depicts a single marine iguana feeding away on the rocks below the surface. Then as the tempo slows down, the main theme is recapitulated as the marine iguanas dry off in the afternoon sun.
3. The Flamingos of Floreana - This island was so serene it made my heart ache! At a 6 A.M. viewing we watched elegant Pink Flamingos feed off brine shrimp in a saltwater lake. These birds are oddly beautiful, with their long thin legs, strange beak, and long S-shaped neck. The music for this movement has a legato four part voiced melody played on bassoons by Beverly Dahlke-Smith, and then moves to a graceful solo by guitarist Grant Geissman. It portrays the simple beauty of this wonderful island and the flamingos that feed patiently in the lake.
4. The Great Tortoises of Santa Cruz - The tortoise is the icon of the Galapagos and they are in abundance on Santa Cruz. These huge, lumbering reptiles exude calmness and comedy as they crawl slowly about. Why should they rush? Generally, they have twice a human's life span. Musically, I use the bass and contrabass clarinet to represent the giant tortoises, and I use an odd-metered pulse to portray their loping movement. After a short canon-like section (which brings to mind turtles in love) we get a unison chorus of tortoises moving about, emerging into a clarinet solo, which represents a baby tortoise fighting his way to freedom. We end with the great tortoises lumbering off into the brush, till the next day's adventure begins.
5. The Penguins of Bartolome Island - This island, covered by hardened lava, has the feeling of a desolate, other-worldly place. Penguins dart about the water off this island, and it's quite a sight to see a penguin (which we usually think of as an awkward bird that waddles about) zoom through the sea at stunning speeds. The music form I chose to depict the penguin is a samba rhythm with the mandolin and piccolo as the penguin, dancing around a busy melody as a penguin dances in the water. Grant Geissman, on acoustic guitar renders a beautiful solo and we hear our penguin song once more before we end.
6. (2:23) The Sea Lions of Isabela - Isabela, the largest island of the archipelago, is home to the largest creatures of the Galapagos, the sea lions. These wonderful mammals are so comfortable around humans they don't shy away from you even when you walk inches as they bask in the sun on the sandy beaches. In the water however, a bull master can be quite intimidating if he thinks you're threatening his territory. I started this final movement with a brass chorale and then ease into a groove that implies the sea lions' movement about the sea. After an interlude of rhythmic trombones (imitating the barks of sea lions) Bruce Fowler wails forth with a multiple-trombone solo, doing his best sea lion rendition! After his solo comes more rhythmic motion, implying the motion of life surrounding the island, as different elements combine in an organic texture that continues on and on. We hear the brass chorale of sea lions float over the pulsating mesh, with an occasional trombone/sea lion bark, bidding us farewell!
All Music Composed, Arranged & Produced by Frank Macchia
© 2004 Frank Macchia - Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.
by Larry Nai
This marvelous disc seems to have come out of nowhere. While Frank Macchia’s public-at-large profile may not be super-visible, he’s been seen and heard in so many guises since his late 1970’s Berklee days (with Herb Pomeroy, Phil Wilson, and Tony Texiera among his teachers) that a good many people have probably tripped over his work at some point. Here’s hoping a good many more will trip over his wonderful Galapagos Suite, one of the most addicting releases I’ve heard lately.
The suite’s six tracks, all of which hover around the six to seven minute mark, each possesses its own distinct character, yet there’s an organic unity that makes the whole glow with life. Although personnel varies only from one to three players (except the final quartet piece), the taste it leaves in one’s ears is richly orchestral. Macchia’s coloristic sense brings to mind the best of Gil Evans, with a palette that extends the comparison even further. "The Marine Iguanas", for example, is so resonantly lush that it begs comparison with some of Duke Ellington’s middle-register mood writing. Macchia’s overdubbed clarinet trio on "The Great Tortoises" is a wonderful, lumbering creation, that sounds for all the world like Jimmy Blanton blowing behind the Clarinet Summit. A synth line, of similar chalumeau hue, throws rhythms in all directions, before allowing the clarinet to solo against a quietly percolating textural change.
Geissman’s guitar solo on "The Flamingos" reverbed and mixed like a ghostly apparition, develops from an almost Loren Mazzacane-like slowness to skittering notes that are full of lovely melody. Bruce Fowler gets his space on the hiply arranged closer, whose trombone trio juts up against a Steve Reich-ish synth part to spacey effect, and Billy Child’s bright, percussive, acoustic piano spot on "The Birds" is a vibrant presence. Interested readers should snap this one up while it’s around because it’s a beauty.
by Winthrop Bedford
How did composer and multi-instrumentalist Frank Macchia come to write "The Galapagos Suite"? Macchia and his wife took a vacation for a couple of weeks to a group of islands – The Galapagos – located off of the South American country of Ecuador. They made daily excursions by yacht to the islands every day. Frank kept a journal of his experiences, sightings of wildlife and terrain. During his excursion, he began developing the ideas for the music on this album – in hopes that the resultant piece would reflect his experience and observations of these islands and their inhabitants. It’s interesting to note that the Galapagos Islands were also the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Must be quite a place!
"The Galapagos Suite" is a contemporary jazz piece, written in six movements. The first movement is "The Birds of Tower Island." I sensed a carefree, upbeat feeling in the piece and perhaps that was what Macchia was feeling as he conjured up the musical latticework for this section. This section is written in 5/4 time, and features a commanding, and harmonically rich piano solo by Billy Childs (with whom readers may be familiar based on his work with Freddie Hubbard, Diane Reeves and many others). Macchia contributes the flute solo that soars above the ensemble at the end of the piece. Frank Macchia is a consummate composer and arranger whose life as a professional on the Hollywood scene has precluded forays such as this impressive suite. By way of background, Frank Macchia began his musical training as a youngster growing up in San Francisco, expanded when he attended Berklee College of Music. Among Frank’s career credits are performances with such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Clare Fischer, Chuck Mangione, Mike Vax’s Big Band, and others. As mentioned currently, Frank is a composer and multi-instrumentalist who lives in the Los Angeles area, working on film and television music.
On part three, "The Flamingos of Floreana," I feel the warmth of Macchia’s brass writing (albeit expressed with a synthesizer) in the opening minutes. This lush section features the sound of bassoon, and a pensive solo by guitarist Grant Guissman. Macchia might not have gotten a whimsical feeling when he was composing part four, "The Great Tortoises." But the opening usage of deep and frictional sounds of bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet and bass certainly gave me that feeling as first. The remainder of the piece continues with deep and dark colors, spacey sounds, cross rhythms, followed by a dark straight-ahead walking bass line and improvised woodwind solo. All of this conjured up the mystery of these curious and enormous creatures – the great tortoises. In contrast to the deliberate sound and feel of "The Great Tortoises" in the previous section, "The Penguins of Bartolome" is a happy, bright samba, lead by a piccolo and flute sounding lead line, and a fulfilling, energetic guitar solo by Geissman.
"The Galapagos Suite" is certainly a labor of love. The music is more ethereal, with new age overtones, as colored by the liberal use of synthesizers throughout the piece. New age music is to me characterized by pallets of colors and an unsatisfying absence of deep and meaningful improvisation – the essence of jazz and the kind of music readers resonate. Macchia’s suite, however, is harmonically and orchestrally rich and is replete with the kind of soloing that characterizes the more straight-ahead jazz settings with which we are familiar. Understood in this context, and the fact that this not something that is ever just thrown together, "The Galapagos Suite" can be regarded as an impressive work.
Global Rhythm Magazine
by Mark Keating
The strange and remote Galapagos Islands inspired Charles Darwin to do his best work and, apparently have done the same for jazz composure and multi-instrumentalist Frank Macchia. The Galapagos Suite is a six-track concept album derived from a sailing excursion Macchia undertook in 2001. Recorded with a team of session veterans, each track is named after a critter unique to the archipelago. Thus, marine iguanas, penguins, flamingos and, of course, giant tortoises, are among the luminaries described with the same anthropomorphic whimsy used by classical composers like Prokofiev and Satie, except in a contemporary jazz format. A composer for film and television, Macchia wisely avoids the trap of depicting the animals as exotic or ungainly (as sometimes happens in nature documentaries) and grants each with a lyrical grace. The result is a highly-listenable postcard, with winds, brass, keyboards and guitar riffing in a polished session comparable to Pat Metheny during his "Latinesque" period. This is not a new-age ramble, nor does it require a degree in biology – although the liner notes describing the various fauna do help. This is a travelogue in the truest sense, tinged with gratitude for what was obviously an exhilarating voyage.