Live Jazz: Clare Fischer’s Clarinet Choir at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

By Tony Gieske

The main thing about Clare Fischer’s Clarinet Choir is its unprecedented sound, the freshest thing in reed literature since the Four Brothers sound devised by Shorty Rogers and Ralph Burns for Woody Herman’s band, which we all know from the unforgettable “Keen & Peachy.”

Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff, and Al Cohn were the brothers, and while the guys in Fischer’s choir were not such stellar soloists, they got a blend that was mellowly entrancing, if way cooler than the one the bop era tenormen achieved.

Clare Fischer's Clarinet Choir: Alex Budman, Don Shelton, Billy Kerr, Sean Franz, Phil Feather

And deeper. On the stand at Vibrato the other night, in addition to four garden variety B-flat clarinets, were an E-flat alto clarinet, a B-flat bass clarinet with Cip Cipriano on the business end, and a pair of contrabass clarinets, one played by the stalwart sideman Lee Callet. He made you think of the great Harry Carney.

Indeed, these lowboys gave out an amazing amount of bottom, saving the tuttis from any trace of shrillness, although the four virtuoso conventional clarinet players found that possibility no great danger. Once in a while during their solos, their over-the-staff register skinnied up for an instant or two.

Anyway, that’s eight top flight clarinetists in one group, preceded in recent weeks by two top flight soloists on the instrument leading their own bands, Eddie Daniels at Vitello’s and Anat Cohen at Catalina’s.  Jazz seems to be floating through the reeds around here.

“Jeru” was a highlight at Vibrato, weightless as a butterfly but stinging like a bebopper. “Basic Blues” gave all the aces a chance to show what they had in the pot, which was plenty. Not real radical, but comprehensive, much like their scorer.

Clare Fischer and Brent Fischer

Son of scorer, Brent Fischer, also did some arranging and composing, played electric bass to underpin it all, called the charts and cued the soloists. Did the dirty work, in other words, while Pop sat and listened.

By the way, it was Johannes Brahms who brought the clarinet into classical music’s Romantic Movement.  So does that make the elder Fischer the Brahms of bebop? Just asking.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  Read and see more of Tony’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site

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