West Coast jazz musicians of the '50s and early '60s tend to be viewed stereotypically as laid-back hot dogs who routinely recorded upbeat contrapuntal originals. As for West Coast orchestral arrangers, they are imagined as writers working mostly for pop albums and film.
In truth, artists and arrangers on the West Coast recorded quite a number of heavy dates during this period, including Russ Garcia's Wigville (1955), Jimmy Giuffre's Seven Pieces (1957), Ornette Coleman's Something Else!!! (1958) and Fred Katz's Folk Songs for Far Out Folks (1958). One such intensive album is Clare Fischer's Extension, a Pacific Jazz release which has just been reissued on CD in a glossy mini-LP case. [Pictured above: Clare Fischer, Getty Images]
Recorded over two days in 1963, the first session featured Gil Falco (tb); Bobby Knight (b-tb); Vince DeRosa, Richard Perissi and Fred Teuber (fhr); Tom Johnson (tu); Sam Most (fl); Ben Kantor and Louis Ciotti (cl); Jerry Coker (b-cl); Gary Foster (cl,ts); Don Shelton (cl,as); Jack Nimitz (bar); John Lowe (fl-1,pic-1); Clare Fischer (p,org); Bob West (b); Colin Bailey (d) and Larry Bunker (vib).
On the second date, a slightly modified group was used: Gil Falco (tb); Bobby Knight (b-tb); Vince DeRosa, Richard Perissi and Fred Teuber (fhr); Tom Johnson (tu); Bud Shank (fl,as) [pictured]; Don Shelton (cl,as); Gary Foster (cl,ts); John Lowe (cl,b-cl,bar,pic); Jerry Coker (ts); Clare Fischer (p,org,as); Bob West (b) and Colin Bailey (d).
Fischer was an admirer of Gary McFarland's modernist feel, Gil Evans' sighing Impressionism and Eddie Sauter's tonal intricacy. But on this album, there are traces of Duke Ellington's complex harmonic textures. Nevertheless, Fischer was distinctly his own man, brushing aside the styles of those he favored for new carefully crafted orchestral explorations. Here, aside from Jerry Coker's tenor sax solos and Fischer's own piano and organ solos, there is no other improvisation on the album.
After Extension was released on vinyl, it was reissued on vinyl again in 1983 on the Discovery label. Then, in 2003, it was released digitally as part of America the Beautiful by the Fischer family. Like many superb albums that have been forgotten, the only reason Extension is out now in its original form with original liner notes is because someone was passionate enough to make the effort. That someone is Jonathan Horwich, who has been producing albums since the early 1960s. As Jon told me in an email:
"I first became aware of Extension in 1964 or 1965 when I took piano lessons with Clare. My jazz record company at the time, Revelation, recorded him then as well as Warne Marsh, Gary Foster, Gary Peacock and others. I may issue more Clare Fischer big band stuff in the future, though I believe Extension is his greatest work. It just holds together perfectly and is singularly original."
A month before his death in January, Fischer wrote a note for the reissue:
"I have always written music on my own terms, not bowing to pressure from producers to join in the latest stylistic fads or use the hottest musicians of the day. I recognized the genius of people such as Jerry Coker [pictured], Don Shelton, Gary Foster and many others long before the record industry really started paying attention to them because I have the ears to do so. Had I not insisted on the musicians I wanted back then, you would be listening to a much different album.
"Similarly, my choice of instrumentation was not convenient for those trying to fit the recordings into existing music categories but it was essential for featuring Jerry exactly as I deemed. His superb tone and expressiveness float immutably over the unconventional woodwind and brass colorings. Consequently, I have never worried about my works standing the test of time because none of them were written with an expiration date in mind!"
Fischer's originals for Extension took four months to prepare, and he rehearsed the orchestra tirelessly prior to recording. The featured artist was Jerry Coker, who had this to say in the album's original notes:
"This is very difficult music—playing it is like patting your head and rubbing your stomach simultaneously, and you are constantly faced with concurrent lines and ideas that are going two different directions at once toward the same place."
The album opens deceptively with a frolicking waltz called Ornithardy, with Fischer on the organ. Then the album promptly exits the predictable highway for an exploration of rougher musical terrain. The title track, with a fascinating orchestration, also features Fischer on organ.
I will admit that it took me about five listens to fully grasp the excitement and breadth of this album. Fischer is such a pretty arranger that you constantly half-expect Extension to veer into his more melodic approach. But the balance of the album steadfastly remains innovative, forcing you to meet the modern work on its own terms.
JazzWax tracks: The newly remastered CD and download of Clare Fischer's Extension can be found at iTunes and Amazon here. By the way, the abstract cover was by Zoe Anne Fischer, Clare Fischer's first wife. Interestingly, the LP cover incorrectly displayed the piece's background as rust-orange. For the re-issue, it has been restored to its original tone.
JazzWax clip: Forget, if you will, that Robert Palmer can't handle this type of material. Instead, focus on the genius of Clare Fischer's arrangement of The Tender Trap: