Gary Morgan and PanAmericana! Press - Full Reviews

Live Music Report

By LAURA FERNANDEZ with photo by Richard Jacobson - Original Review
December 28, 2008

Over the last few years I have been on a road of discovery and have developed a deep respect and appreciation for this brilliant and eclectic musical form they call Latin Jazz. Saturday night, Dec. 28th, 2008 was a wonderful stop along my journey. The place of rest was Lula Lounge and the attraction was Gary Morgan and Panamericana! If music were a view to behold and not just an aural awakening of the soul, I would say that I had paused in front of a magnificent panorama; a tropical rain forest replete with birds, exotic flowers and fragrant plants bathed in a mysterious and misty light.

Composer, arranger and bandleader Gary Morgan was born in Chile but spent a good part of his life here in Toronto before moving to New York and forming his band Panamericana!, a 20-piece ensemble made up of some of the finest New York Latin Jazz musicians. He originally formed the band as a vehicle for modern Cuban and Brazilian music as well as his own compositions. Saturday night was a colourful display of his lush and majestic arrangements performed by his Canadian version of Panamericana! which included the best of Toronto talent. Morgan himself cuts a striking figure. Tall and lean, he struck me as gracious and meticulous. I had the pleasure of conversing with him before the show and was taken by his elegant and gentle demeanor. As he took his position out front to lead his band he did so with the air and confidence of a great maestro.

The evening took off with a dynamic piece by Todd Anderson called "Taz" which featured seductive solos by David Wiffen on saxophone, Kevin Turcotte on the trumpet and Mike Ruby on tenor sax. This was followed by the haunting piece "Reflexos" (Luiz Eca), a beautifully textural piece featuring a tasteful and inventive piano solo by Gordon Sheard. True to form, throughout the evening the band performed a variety of classic and modern material from contemporary Brazilian and Cuban composers as well as Morgan's own original works. Highlights in the program included Milton Nascimento's "Ode to Vera Cruz" which featured a blistering trombone solo by Phil Grey and the signature trumpet lines of Alexis Baro. "Olha Maria", a Tom Jobim composition, was beautiful and spiritual in its simplicity. Morgan's original compositions - the sultry and powerful "Dream City" (part of a suite inspired by the paintings of Paul Klee) and the majestic "Celtic Echoes" - were rich and sumptuous. Throughout the evening the best of Toronto's Latin Jazz musical community wove a tapestry of sensual solos against a diaphanous backdrop of elegant orchestrations. The balance was perfect. Roberto Occhipinti and Mark Kelso anchored everything and added a driving energy and playfulness to the arrangements. The band was tight and the evening was well paced. The project was a clear demonstration of the caliber of Toronto musicians as well as the quality of Gary Morgan's imaginative and masterful arrangements and strong musical direction.

The evening was truly a feast. The crowd as well as the band clearly enjoyed the music and Gary's charming and informative introductions. I for one will most definitely be attending as many Gary Morgan and Panamericana! performances as I possibly can - perhaps the next time in New York!

The Musicians - Trumpets: Tony Carlucci, Alex Baro, Kevin Turcotte, Brian O'Kane; Trombones: Phil Gray, William Carn, Christian Overton, Pete Hysen; French horns: David Quackenbush, Katie Toskoy; Saxophones: David Wiffen, Tara Davidson, Mike Ruby, Jeff King, Pol Coussee; Piano: Gordon Sheard; Bass: Roberto Occhipinti; Drums: Mark Kelso; Percussions: Rick Lazar, Jalidan Castro

Jazz Improv Magazine

Published: Summer, 2008

There is a description of this group on its website where one can find a sentence that reads, "This is not your father's big band." While this band certainly takes certain musical cues from the traditional big band language, as do a large majority of modern big bands, they are looking to infuse the language of modern South American music into a large group setting. One listen to this CD and you'll agree that they are well on their way to achieving their goal. PanAmericana! is a big band that focuses on the music of Brazil, Cuba and beyond, and it's also Gary Morgan's compositional vehicle. Felicidade kicks off with "Batuki Di Bangu", written by Jovino Santos Neto. While the song leans on Afro-Brazilian rhythmic elements, things break down into a bubbly funk groove, underscored by Andy Eulau's infectious bass playing, in a saxophone battle between Todd Bashore and Bruce Williamson. Things cool off a bit during John Bailey's muted trumpet solo and pick up again toward the conclusion of the track.

"Because Why" is a laid-back tune that features Jeff Bush's brawny trombone work. Things get juicy with the brass solo section which is followed by a superb piano solo from Cliff Korman. It seems like no South American-inspired set is complete without at least one Jobim tune and Morgan delivers here with "A Felicidade". Terry Goss' lyrical baritone saxophone work is on full display during the introduction to this song. When the band kicks into a Samba, Goss maintains control and contributes some inspired solo work. Chris Rogers, the trumpet soloist here, does a great job pacing himself through his improvisation and things take on a party-like atmosphere at the brief percussion break following his solo.

The soothing sounds of Bossa Nova music fill the air during "Tudo Bem", Morgan injects a sultry sound into this original and before long the feel of the piece completely changes as we return to party mode with the brass section spitting out various licks and runs that are sure to delight the listener. Things relax back into a more subtle setting in time for the top of Chris Rogers' flugelhorn solo which impressively meanders its way throughout the various sections of this piece. Dave Riekenberg's tenor saxophone soloing is very soulful and he really seems to get to the core of the tune.

The textures and phrasing of "Reflexos" are very beautiful with small dollops of percussion (like the wind chime insertions) adding a lot to the overall musical experience. Ben Kono's soprano saxophone snakes through the music with some sly phrases during his solo spot on this song. Itiberê Zwarg's "Pedra Vermelha" combines a strong sense of groove with some playful music in an effort that definitely stands out as one of the most unique pieces on the album.

While the writing here is terrific, a lot of the credit has to go to the rhythm duo featuring Andy Eulau on drums and Ray Marchica on bass. They do a great job of navigating and controlling the feel throughout this song and the album as a whole. Morgan's own "Moragatu" has a somewhat devilish sound as it unfolds, becoming very light as the airy flute sounds take control of the melodic duties. This piece even takes on a more conventional small combo sound as saxophone, piano, bass and drums take us through a seductive journey mid-track. While I personally don't hear the sounds of Ireland in the "Celtic Echoes Theme", it is irrelevant since this piece is one of the most energy-charged performances on the record. This tune must be a blast for these musicians to play.

"Dream City" is a lovely Bolero-meets-ballad piece that Morgan wrote as a musical portrait of a Paul Klee painting. While knowing the inspiration adds new insight to this piece, the music is no less enjoyable if you didn't have this information. Hermeto Pascoal's "Viajando Pelo Brasil" features some burning solos from Eulau, Goss and Bailey and closes the album with the same flair and musical excitement that radiates throughout the proceedings.

FELICIDADE - Consolidated Artists Productions CAP 1014. Batuki Di Bangu: Because Why?; A Felicidade Intro; A Felicidade; Tudo Bem; Reflexos; Pedra Vermelha Intro; Pedra Vermelha; Moragatu; Celtic Echoes Theme; Dream City; Viajando Pelo Brasil.

PERSONNEL: Jon Owens, trumpet; John Chudoba, trumpet; Chris Rogers, trumpet; John Bailey, trumpet; Mike Boschen, trombone; Tim Albright, trombone; Jeff Bush, trombone; Alan Ferber, trombone; Chris Olness, trombone; Mike Atkinson, French horn; Amie Margoles, French horn; Chris Komer, French horn; Todd Bashore, saxophone; Bruce Williamson, saxophone; Ben Kono, saxophone; Dave Riekenberg, saxophone; Terry Goss, saxophone; Cliff Korman, piano; Andy Eulau, bass; Ray Marchica, drums; Renato Thoms, percussion; Annette A. Aguilar, percussion.

Blogcritics Magazine

Published: August 2, 2008

For the last decade or so, one of the best-kept secrets in Latin jazz is a transplanted Canadian who is now living in New York. But Gary Morgan and his 20 piece orchestra PanAmericana! (complete with exclamation point) just might break out of that anonymity with their latest album, Felicidade, now out on the Consolidated Artists label.

Although Morgan keeps a low profile, he does have many years of experience in the jazz world. In the early years he was a saxophonist with many of the big-name jazz bands, and eventually added bass playing to his skill set. He even found the time to continue his formal musical education, aiming toward a bigger role in arranging and composing.

Morgan has always loved Latin jazz and has spent extended periods of time living in South America. Combining that fact with his extensive musical background has helped him become one of the best composers and arrangers of Latin music around, and has also led him into forming PanAmericana! to help further his musical vision.

The album is an outstanding collection of mostly Brazilian jazz that leans toward samba and other dance rhythms, but some of the pieces show other Latin influences, including Cuban. The mix of tracks includes some established Brazilian tunes along with a few new compositions by Morgan. Among the best of the latter is the lush and moody "Because Why?" and "Moragatu," which takes advantage of the percussion-dominated, full orchestral sound that only a Latin big band can generate.

Some of the more traditional Brazilian songs include Jobim's classic "A Felicidade," which lends its name to the album and was probably my favorite track. It is a joyful romp, heavy with precision brass play and equally sharp percussion, supplemented by some nice baritone sax tones. I also greatly enjoyed "Batuki de Bangu," a piece with a hint of African rhythms. It features some first-class solo instrumental work, especially a 'duel' between two of the band's alto saxophonists.

Very enjoyable big-band Latin jazz, reminiscent of tropical nights and flashing dancers — recommended.


Published: July 2008

Composer/arranger and band leader Gary Morgan founded the New York-based 20-piece PanAmericana ensemble in 1997 as a repertory orchestra for modern Cuban and Brazilian music. Chilean-born Morgan, who spent the better part of his life in Toronto, Canada, has always had a special affinity to Brazilian music having been, as he stated "seduced by the warmth and poetry of the culture…but most importantly the rich melodic tradition of choro…adds a dimension …lacking in popular music in America". "Felicidade" is the band's second album and focuses on orchestrations and arrangements of lesser known Brazilian music and features regional rhythms as maxixe, baiao, maracatu as well as the samba.

Leading a large orchestra comprised of the finest New York area Latin jazz musicians; PanAmericana is loaded with a woodwind section of five, a horn section of six with two players on the French horn and a rhythm section with percussions. Together the band produces a hard-driving powerful sound diced with finesse solos from various members.

The program starts off with the Afro-Brazilian rhythm of "Batuki Di Bangu" highlighted by a sax "duel" featuring Todd Bashore and Bruce Williamson launching salvos. The second track, a Morgan original dedicated to his son, "Because Why," is a more traditional Latin jazz arrangement with rich melodic tones, one of the best numbers here.

The title tune, Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Felicidade" is preceded by a short intro in a separate track, and then kicks off showcasing the baritone sax of Terry Goss over a brass choir.

Morgan contributes five compositions but none as spacious as the ten minute burner of "Tudo Bem," a lazy bossa featuring Chris Rogers on a fine flugelhorn foray. There’s a great big band arrangement to Brazilian bassist Itbere Zwarg's chart "Pedra Vermelha," as well as experiencing a taste of Northeastern Brazilian rhythms with "Moragatu." The other standout tunes include the last two Morgan originals, "Celtic Echoes Theme," and "Dream City" as the album closes out with a blistering read of Hermeto Pascoal's "Viajando Pelo Brasil."

"Felicidade," which means happiness, certainly provides a tremendous dose of musical joy here whether one is a fan of Latin/Brazilian music or not. Morgan's charts are robust full of fire while the explosive PanAmericana orchestra makes the music glow all over. With out question, this is one of the finest Latin jazz albums to be released this year blending the best of Latin/Brazilian music and big band jazz making for a winning combination.

Hot House Magazine

Published: July 2008

On Felicidade (CAP), arranger Gary Morgan deploys a kaleidoscope of orchestral strategies and a veritable cornucopia of tones and timbres, instrumental combinations and colors with his PanAmericana big band, which includes French horns as well as the usual trumpets and trombones, a reed section that doubles frequently on a variety of woodwinds, and percussion including copious deep drums as well as a most apposite use of the triangle. Sometimes all the rich episodic movement and suite-like intricacies of his arrangements come close to being a surfeit of riches - until he hits you with just the right shot of jazz adrenaline to move things right along. Morgan's orchestral palette is panoramic; he's learned a lot from Gil Evans and Thad Jones, as well as Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra. It's an approach that applies highly sophisticated modern jazz orchestration to Brazilian and Afro-Cuban rhythmic settings and compositions. Five numbers are Morgan originals; five others were composed by Brazilian masters.

The classic "Black Orpheus" Jobim title piece is treated in both slow and faster tempos, as in the film, with Terry Goss's baritone sax first etching the theme over a brass choir, then sharing it with the ensemble as the samba beat heats up, French horns swooping in cinematically. The Cuban son style and clave beat of Morgan's "Because Why?" eschew a montuno groove in favor of elaborate horn and woodwind section exchanges, shout choruses and kicking brass. Richly textured, multiple, weaving ensemble lines come at you in layers on Jovino Santos Netos' "Batuki di Bangu", with distinct Brazilian percussive accents. Muted brass and flutes, after soaring French horns, bring a pensive feel to Luiz Eca's "Reflexos." That triangle emphasizes the light rhythm of Itibere Zwarg's "Pedra Vermelha" with its flutes lead and piano concerto feel. But then every one of the ten pieces has its own distinctive, idiomatic feel, with Morgan's own "Moragatu" - a play on the Brazilian rhythm called maracatu - a whirlwind sonic tour of perspicacious orchestral possibilities that is a central highlight. There's even his "Celtic Echoes Theme", a blend of the title-suggested melodies and Cuban son; and "Dream City", his bolero in tribute to a Paul Klee painting. Finishing off the album is "Viajando Pelo Brasil" (Traveling Across Brazil), a punchy, fanfare-ish setting of a Hermeto Pascoal classic.

The Latin Jazz Corner

By CHIP BOAZ - Original Review
Felicidade - Gary Morgan & PanAmericana! (Consolidated Artists Productions). Published: July 2008

Afro-Cuban Jazz and Brazilian Jazz share the most popularity in the Latin Jazz world, but most Latin Jazz big band projects in the United States remain decidedly slanted towards Afro-Cuban Jazz. Historically, Afro-Cuban music became popular in New York at an essential time when big bands were thriving and bebop was becoming more popular. The American public got their first taste of Afro-Cuban Jazz through big bands led by Machito, Tito Puente, and Dizzy Gillespie, among others. Financial issues and artistic diversity eventually drove the majority of Afro-Cuban Jazz into the small group format, but the style remained forever linked to the big band instrumentation. Brazilian Jazz became a piece of the American landscape when the combo was already firmly entrenched as the main performance format. Influenced by combinations of bebop, cool jazz, and modal jazz, Brazilian Jazz grew into a small group style, driven by bossa nova and samba. Latin Jazz musicians have integrated Brazilian styles into big band repertoire over the years, but numerous possibilities have yet to be explored. Gary Morgan & Panamericana venture into many of these unexplored territories on their album Felicidade, an intricate group of big band Latin Jazz performances.

Tackling Pieces From Modern Brazilian Composers
Several songs reveal Morgan's high-level skill as an arranger as he tackles a number of pieces from modern Brazilian composers. A delicate woodwind duet floats over a rubato piano accompaniment on the introduction to Itiberę Zwarg's "Pedra Vermelha," leading into a thick band sound. After a rhythmically bouncing melody spread between woodwinds and trombones, pianist Cliff Korman spins logical melodies over the samba foundation. Trombonist Jeff Bush jumps right into an improvisation over a saxophone background line that provides momentum to his rhythmic solo. The saxophone section charges a furious line through a series of band hits to open Hermeto Pascoal's "Viajando Pelo Brasil," and then the group follows the inertia into a driving melody. Bassist Andy Eulau relies upon moving sequences to build an engaging statement that transitions into an enthusiastic improvisation from baritone saxophone player Terry Goss. Morgan pulls together tonal colors from the different sections into an intertwining interlude, which sets up a tasteful solo from trumpet player John Bailey. Goss provides a sensitive reading of the melody on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "A Felicidade" over the rich texture of a brass choir. After an energetic restatement of the melody over an up-tempo samba, Goss explodes into an impassioned solo, pushed higher by strong background lines. Trumpet player Chris Rogers mixes flowing lines with a bebop flavor on his statement that moves into a clever shout section. Korman establishes a series of rhythmic ideas echoed by the saxophone section on Jovino Santos Neto's "Batuki Di Bangu," followed by a funky melody. Saxophonists Todd Bashore and Bruce Williamson trade enthusiastic blues licks that drive the rhythm section into a heated climax. The intense funk sound disappears as the rhythm section quiets for a muted solo by Bailey, which glides over some inventive flute background lines. These tracks reveal Morgan's keen ability to creative interprets a variety of compositions, and his inclusion of diverse Brazilian composers reflect a broad study of the music.

Richly Arranged Original Compositions
Morgan shines as a composer on richly arranged pieces of Brazilian Jazz. A constant surdo emphasizes drummer Ray Marachica's bossa nova underneath rhythmic chordal patches in the winds on "Tudo Bem," leading into a lush melody played by Rogers on the flugelhorn and tenor saxophonist Dave Riekenberg. The rhythm section jumps into a double time samba feel as the winds drive short rhythmic ideas over the percussion and then restate the melody with a full band sound over the bossa nova. Rogers builds a melodic idea over the bossa nova until the band pushes him into the double time feel, driving him into a series of quick lines. After a richly orchestrated interlude, Riekenberg improvises over the same form, developing his statement into a series of long phrases. The wind players boldly push a bluesy line over a maracatú rhythm, which transitions into an open melody riding on a baiáo feel on "Moragatu." After an assertive interlude over the maracatú driven by powerful brass playing, the band shrinks to a minimal baiáo for tenor saxophonist Ben Kono's improvisation. Starting with strongly developed melodic statements, Kono collaboratively builds his statement with the rhythm section, growing into a frenzied series of notes. Morgan's compositions show an understanding of several Brazilian styles, but also a talent for creatively manipulating them into larger structures that hold rich jazz harmonies.

Influences Outside The Brazilian Tradition
Three tracks reflect influences outside the Brazilian tradition. A simple yet catchy melody moves through a variety of melodic and textural variations over a son montuno rhythm on "Because Why?" Bush attacks his improvisation with syncopated rhythms and rapid phrases, cutting through the airy background lines with a powerful voice. The rhythm section establishes a funky vamp behind a brass mambo that moves into a well-constructed improvisation from Korman. Lush chordal patches and beautiful melodies give an almost symphonic feel to the introduction on "Dream City," which gently moves into a delicate melody over a bolero foundation. Morgan utilizes his group's unique instrumentation to color the harmony, drawing upon french horns, flutes, and clarinets. Riekenberg's soprano sax and Rogers' flugelhorn get extended solos, which they both fill with thoughtful lines that combine blues notes with sophisticated phrases. A pedal tone over a son montuno provides the foundation for a quick improvisation from Korman on "Celtic Echoes Theme," leading into a menacing minor melody. Korman draws upon the harmonic freedoms of the pedal tone to build a quick but impressive improvisation. Rogers gets more time to explore his ideas, spinning long phrases over a variety of textures. These tracks display a fluent command of Latin styles outside the Brazilian tradition, giving a hint of even more artistic directions.

A World of Possibilities
Morgan and his group reveal of world of possibilities inherent in Brazilian big band jazz on Felicidade, driven by Morgan's fine tuned orchestration skills and smart repertoire. Morgan's ability to extract less common sounds from the ensemble and then place them in primary roles sets his group apart from most big bands. Small groups of flutes play background lines, french horns thicken harmony, and muted brass color the band's tone; there's a sonic richness to the ensemble that escapes most big bands. He consistently maintains the rhythmic power of the Brazilian genres - from Batuque to Maracatú, the rhythms propel the compositions. They never become the music's defining factor though; they simply sit on par with Morgan’s deep textural concept. As a composer, Morgan spins clever variations upon standard conventions from the Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, and straight-ahead jazz big band format. The songs stay connected to the music's rich lineage, but the numerous and clever variations stem from Morgan's artistic prowess. Morgan's use of compositions from modern, and in some cases lesser known, Brazilian composers provides a look into a fresh musical world. He dug deep to find unique repertoire, and in turn, he brings an intriguing sense of authenticity and discovery to the band. Morgan opens the door onto many possibilities on Felicidade, but two major factors stand out - the opportunity to establish a modern and distinctive Brazilian big band jazz sound and the emergence of an arranging stylist with the massive potential for future endeavors.

Raleigh North Carolina News & Observer

Jazz: Gary Morgan & PanAmericana! - Felicidade. Published: July 6, 2008

The marquee for Gary Morgan & Pan Americana! should read, "Electrifying big band Latin jazz." "Felicidade" (Consolidated Artists Productions), the 20-piece group's second album, is a tour de force of bold writing and playing.

From a historical perspective, you can make a case for this band as a modern-day continuation of the brassy Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Kenton orchestras of the late 1940s, groups that pioneered what was then called Afro-Cuban jazz.

"Felicidade" is weighted toward the Brazilian influence, with five tunes by Brazilian composers and five by Morgan. Morgan challenges the band with interlocking rhythmic interplay, high brass parts and, in one case, swoops and waves of sound usually left to soloists but executed here en masse.

He extends the tonal palette to include tuba, two French horns and various woodwind doubles. Alto saxophonist Todd Bashore, a Duke University graduate, solos on Jovino Santos Neto's "Batuki Di Bangu."

As is characteristic of Latin big band writing, Morgan often employs the saxophones and brass like a rhythm section, setting up introductory riffs and interludes. He keeps the horns busy behind the soloists, too.

In addition to Bashore, soloists include, among others, baritone saxophonist Terry Goss (the title cut), trombonist Jeff Bush (Morgan's "Because Why?") and saxophonist Ben Kono (tenor on Morgan's "Moragatu" and soprano on Luiz Eca's "Reflexos").

All About Jazz

By TERRELL KENT HOLMES - Original Review
"Felicidade (happiness)" - Gary Morgan & PanAmericana! (Consolidated Artists Productions). Published: April 2008

Gary Morgan's orchestrations are an absolute feast. He thrives on the diverse rhythms of Latin America and the Caribbean and his arrangements are clever and energetic. Recently he led his powerhouse big band, PanAmericana, through a show at the New York City Baha'i Center in support of their new release Felicidade. There was little overlap between the songs played at the set and those on the disc, but the lineup was the same: a combination of Morgan originals and songs by musicians who are largely unknown in America but held in the highest esteem by Morgan and throughout Latin musical communities.

Morgan loves colorful horn bursts and robust percussion, within which soloists have ample room for expression. The first number at the show, "Samba School", similar to the CD's opener, "Batuki Di Bangu", is a brass riot, with funk elements rubbing elbows at the bar with the Afro-Brazilian rhythm. The studio version of "Reflexos" is a beautiful ballad with a brass overture reminiscent of Miles Ahead; in concert, however, John Bailey unleashed his 'muted' trumpet and nearly drowned out the band. The haunting " Dream City", part of a suite inspired by the paintings of Paul Klee, has a seductive melody and rhythms anchored by soprano and flugelhorn that underscore the title perfectly. (The band performed another part of the suite, "Black Prince", at the show) But it's the title cut, a relentless and joyful samba by Antonio Carlos Jobim, that truly encapsulates the spirit of the disc.

One key to composing and arranging for a big band is to find a suitable balance of sounds without sacrificing instrumentation. If rhythm and instrumentation aren't coordinated properly, the result can be chaotic. Morgan's excellent composing and arranging on stage and in the studio, supports his ability to manage these elements masterfully and produces the kind of wonderful music that he has on Felicidade.

February 26, 2008

Gary Morgan belongs to the select group of artists who truly understand the universal essence of music. His arrangements and compositions span a wide spectrum of colors, rhythms and styles, all done with careful attention to detail, without ever losing the connection to the pulse of groove. His choice of great musicians and his dedication to making a large jazz ensemble function are inspiring. I feel honored to have had my music interpreted by this great orchestra, as much as I am proud to hear the music of my country be so well played alongside that of other countries.

Congratulations and much "Felicidade" to you, Gary!

Newark Star Ledger

"Felicidade" - Gary Morgan & PanAmericana! (CAP). February 2, 2008

NYC-based composer, arranger and bassist Gary Morgan's PanAmericana! boasts percolating Afro-Cuban to Brazilian rhythms, zesty melodies, engaging ensemble writing, and ear-grabbing improvisations. Flat out, this band should be better known, working major venues and jazz festivals. Each track on "Felicidade" is distinctive, provocative, invigorating. Morgan's arrangement of Jovino Santos Neto's "Batuki Di Bangu" starts with punchy riffs – heard variously via piano, horns, and the ensemble. These lead to a boisterous alto saxophone exchange between Todd Bashore and Bruce Williamson, then things turn softer for John Bailey's muted trumpet outing, underscored by buoyant flutes and winds. After Annette Aguilar's percussion pizzazz, the band riffs lead to a potent climax. Jobim's title track is introduced quietly and slowly by baritone saxophonist Terry Goss, then shifts into a bold samba, with band shouts and chords leading to an undulating Goss thematic statement and vibrant solo. Trumpeter Chris Rogers also scores here. Morgan's bossa, "Tudo Bem," also travels through a series of moods, Ray Marchica's peppy drums paving the way. Morgan's ensemble writing is outstanding, as are the solos by Rogers and tenor saxophonist Dave Riekenberg. The leader's "Dream City" is a beguiling, slow-as-a-stroll bolero, with deft Cliff Korman piano, among others.

Mix Online

By DAVID WEISS - Original Review
New York Metro. November 1, 2007
photo: George Petit (left) and Yvan Bing in Legacy's A room

Mention "cutting edge" and "recording" in the same breath, and big band music doesn't automatically come to mind. However, the market for very lively styles like jazz and big band remains healthy, which is precisely why the sizable live rooms of New York City continue to push the technical envelope for these classic styles.

One recent project that attests to the vitality of jazz recording in New York is the new album from big band leader Gary Morgan's 20-piece Latin jazz orchestra Pan Americana! called Felicidade. For noted New York City-based producer/engineer George Petit, the intensive project was an opportunity to apply his considerable experience to nontraditional record/mix procedures.

Petit selected Studio A at Legacy Recording Studios. "People generally associate traditional big band recordings with a very live, plate-y, splashy sound," explains Petit. "All of the horns are stacked, as opposed to recording with a lot more attention to placements of individual instruments throughout the panorama of the speaker. Because of Gary's writing style, we were trying to approach it so you could hear the counterpoint and intricacies happening between each section."

Pan Americana!'s style reflects Morgan's diverse influences, with high-energy songwriting and a heavy dose of Brazilian music. The band included irregularities like two French horns, forcing Petit to approach the sessions - which would see the recording of 70 minutes of music at 88.2 kHz in just a day and a half - with an open mind. "Studio A at Legacy has been one of the best jazz rooms in New York City for 25 years," Petit says. "It's a big, warm room and it has a magnificent sound for acoustic music and rock. It's also got a not-very-bright Yamaha 9-foot piano and four nice-sounding iso booths looking out into the live space. Plus, there's the SSL 9000 J console and 24 channels of Neve 1081 preamps and EQs, so you can track with Neve and mix with the SSL if you choose."

Petit was aided by the expertise of engineer Yvan Bing in drawing up and executing an involved setup for Studio A. In the main room, an assortment of 28 microphones - including Neumann FET 47s and U67s, Cole and Royer ribbon mics, and Schoeps models - handled close-miking situations for saxophones, French horns, trumpets and flutes. A pair of DPA 4006 omni mics captured the overall room, while RCA 77 microphones served as overheads for each section. Bass went direct, as well as being miked through an Ampeg B15 amp.

Isolation was achieved by using the iso rooms to the hilt: Piano, drums and each of the percussionists received their own sealed space. In the main room, gobos were placed between the reeds and the trumpets; trombones and French horns were similarly separated. "It was like a big 'u,' with short gobos and large standing separators," Petit says.

Once in place, the setup played to the hybrid live/tight sound that Morgan and Petit were seeking. "The RCA 77s were selected because we wanted a ribbon-y, warm sound for each section," recalls Petit. "We were looking for a room sound that would be traditional, but with a close-mike sound that's more modern. With this method, when we mixed we could choose between close and room depending on Gary's druthers. We ended up capturing 47 tracks simultaneously into Pro Tools. Not all of the tracks were used, but we had to have them so we could make decisions later."

In addition to the technical elements, Petit was prepared for the challenges inherent in keeping a big band on its toes. "You have to keep up with the energy of the group because you don't want to have a lot of people hanging around for long," he says. "Once you get 20 people in a room ready to roll, you have to be ready to roll, too. If you're just doing a quartet, there are lots of issues to address, so all the possible complexities of a 20-piece band just go up exponentially."

With tracking complete, the team moved to the Cutting Room (also in New York City) to mix on an SSL 9000 J. "The mix would eventually work out the way we wanted it, but it was still the most challenging mix that I've ever done," says Petit. "We went for a sound that would be very representative of this 20-piece band live in that studio, instead of having to enhance the ambience with digital reverb. What we got was something that was very exciting - I don't want to say aggressive, but a punchy, live sound."

This was one case where having a highly trained musician like Petit in the engineer's seat was essential. "A lot of time was given to following the arrangement, keeping track of Gary's music on paper to 'follow the ball,'" Petit states.

The need for effects and outboard gear was minimal on the Felicidade mix. Instead, Petit focused on every aspect of level and positioning within the stereo soundfield. "Basically, what we were doing was balancing our sections by balancing close mics with the ambiances of the individual overheads or room mics, trying to really make each section distinct from the next," he says. "In most cases, we decided that the center of the mix would be occupied by the drum kit, acoustic bass and piano. With such a punchy rhythm section, Gary wanted that anchor in the middle of the speakers.

"We knew we would have overlapping sections because there's just not enough room in the speakers to place 20 people. What we did was paint or create in the mix the actual visual of what was going on in the room, so listening from the conductor's perspective we ended up having the reeds mostly on the left, French horns on the right, and trumpets and trombones verging on the center of the mix. When flutes were present, we tried to paint across the panorama. There were a few EQ details, but most of the issues were in balancing and panning, and that's where most of the time was spent."

"Gary was depending on his engineering staff to take what was in his head and translate it to a recording," Petit concludes. "It takes a lot of time, energy and emotion for musicians to put down personal statements - for them not to worry about whether or not it's working is a lovely thing."

Toronto Globe & Mail

At the Montreal Bistro in Toronto on Monday April 24, 2006

If there's any truth to the saying "talent will out," then there will undoubtedly come a day when Gary Morgan is widely recognized as one of the brightest big band composer/arrangers in the business.

For now, however, the former Torontonian is merely one of the better-kept secrets in jazz. Based in Manhattan, he has been directing and composing for a Latin big band he calls PanAmericana! (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the name). On Monday, he brought his book and a select group of Toronto musicians to the Montreal Bistro, where they blew the roof off the joint for two sets. It was the sort of performance that makes you understand why Morgan feels entitled to that exclamation mark.

There's no denying the guy's mastery of his trade. Where many big band arrangements seldom move beyond the primary colours of saxophones, trombones and trumpets, Morgan's charts work from a surprisingly varied and subtle palette, both by adding less common voices (two French horns as well as having the saxophonists double on flute, piccolo and bass clarinet) to the mix, and by taking a more orchestral approach to the ensemble, so that the instrumental voices are woven together in a rich tapestry of sound.

Moreover, because his PanAmericana! project draws from a variety of Latin musical traditions, Morgan has also mastered the art of writing rhythm -- samba, bembe, beguine, you name it. As such, his charts are not only written around very explicit beats, they use changes in the rhythmic pulse as part of the compositional development, as well as additional fuel for improvisation.

Although Morgan's crew had only a few hours of rehearsal, they performed with such authority you'd have thought this was their regular Monday night gig. It helped that Morgan had assembled an ace rhythm section, with Hilario Duran on piano, Roberto Occhipinti on electric bass, and powerhouse drummer Mark Kelso augmented by two percussionists. But it wasn't just the rhythm section; the whole band seemed not only to get what Morgan was aiming for, but responded enthusiastically to his direction.

This wasn't easy music, either. Morgan's arrangement of Deanna Witkowski's Happening At Once, for instance, was built over two distinct rhythmic ideas, one a loping, West African-derived 6/8, the other a more conventional Cuban pulse. On top of all that, there was some delightfully kaleidoscopic interplay between the brass and reeds, which sketched a harmonic structure every bit as intricate as the rhythm. Not only was it played beautifully, but there was an illuminating contrast in Morgan's soloists, with tenor saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff varying his phrasing in response to the rippling shifts within the percussion, while Kevin Turcotte's trumpet opted for a straight, boppish line over the roiling rhythm.

There was also a wonderfully inventive treatment of the Cole Porter chestnut I Concentrate on You, which opened with gorgeous pedal-point harmonies before slipping into a sly, sophisticated beguine. Mark Promane offered a wonderfully tart solo on alto saxophone, but the highlight of the performance was probably the arrangement itself, which loaded increasingly dense harmonies into each verse so that Porter's habit of ending a minor-chord line with a sunny major-chord resolution took on additional impact with each iteration. Brilliant stuff.

By the time they got to the hymn-like opening of Milton Nascimento's Vera Cruz at the end of the first set, Morgan had made it clear that he deserves to be thought of in the same terms as classic big band composers as Chico O'Farrill and Neil Hefti. Here's hoping that doesn't stay a secret.

Jazz Times Magazine

Gary Morgan & PanAmericana! "Live at Birdland." Published: December 2003

Gary Morgan & PanAmericana's "Live at Birdland" (CAP) is a well recorded and mixed 1998 gig, thankfully released now with a solid sound. For this spirited release Morgan marshaled 20 musicians into a forceful, expressive and densely layered musical entity. Some, like bassist Harvie S., percussionist Memo Acevedo and trombonist Chris Washburne, are not only recorded leaders on their own but also frequent partners in various Latin music goings-on. Toronto native Morgan's material, featuring particularly sturdy horn arrangements, can't be easily traced to a particular source, but his 20-odd years in New York City, however, seem just as important in his development, perhaps even more so as his homage to Bobby Punetto in "Refractions" bears out. Milton Nascimento's "Vera Cruz," on the other hand, elicits grandeur through a front line of five-flute sweetness coloring the tune, with surprising reharmonizations of the original without compromising its melodic playfulness or rhythmic undercurrents. For all the talk of ensemble tightness and meritorious writing, however, can the soloists inspire and carry the band? They can.

Gary Morgan & PanAmericana! "Live at Birdland." Published: March 2005

Gary Morgan is an unusually gifted composer and arranger. Veteran of the BMI Jazz Workshop, recipient of compositional grants from the NEA and the New Jersey Council on the Arts, he's put together a crisp 20-piece band that's studded with top-level players. Live at Birdland, recorded in 1998 and released in 2003, is lush and lively. Morgan's charts meld a Latin/Brazilian feel with shades of Gil Evans and modern classical music; it's a terrific mix, full of surprising textures and harmonies. A master of dynamics, Morgan builds excitement organically, moving each tune to a satisfying conclusion.

The set contains seven: three fine Morgan compositions, two from venerable Brazilian composers Milton Nascimento and Egberto Gismonti, and an intriguing waltz ("Cactus") from Michael Rendish, a teacher at Berklee. It's a varied and enjoyable tour, with noteworthy peaks like Morgan's textured "Refractions" and "The Black Prince," which begins as a sinuous bolero with a hint of dark, coiled power, and grows into a pulsing 6/8 Bembe rhythm. Nascimento's familiar "Vera Cruz" is freshened with intricate harmonies, while Gismonti's "Salvador" conjures the spirit of Bahia, ending the CD with whirling percussive joy.

Morgan, a native of Santiago, Chile who grew up in Toronto, has played his woodwinds with such astral bodies as Duke Ellington, Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson, and Dizzy Gillespie; moving to New York in 1980, he switched to bass. When he launched the PanAmericana! Big Band in 1995, he was able to combine his passion for Latin music with other contemporary influences, creating a seamless and exciting whole. A 2005 performance at Dizzy Gillespie's B'hai Center space reconfirmed that PanAmericana! is one of the best bands around, both innovative and respectful of tradition.

-- Dr. J's writing combines her love of jazz with her fascination with psychology; she enjoys focusing on where they intersect -- in the celebration of the individual spirit. More about Dr. J

March 2003

Today's turbulent Jazz world exhibits perhaps the most disparate array of artists, creative and music industry objectives— from various genres of neo-traditionalism backed by major labels, corporate-endowed smooth Jazz, a plethora of world beat synergies and breakbeat dance loops, to a choice number of independent artists and labels whose uncompromising vision, originality and inspiration stand out clearly and merit a bigger piece of Jazz's industrial pie- all two percent of it.

When it comes to the arena of contemporary writing for Big Band, alongside the likes of Bob Mintzer and Maria Schneider, be sure to add to that list composer-arrranger Gary Morgan. His writing is fresh, personal, sonically meticulous, and more than anything, written by a great musician for great musicians.

Morgan's passion for music of the Latin tinge has been lifelong, leading to numerous trips to Brazil and Cuba. Finally, in 1995, he launched the PanAmericana! Big Band (or should I say orchestra). In that time he has featured not only his own music, but brilliant metamorphosed treatments from Brazilian greats such as Hermeto Pascoal, Jovino Santos Neto, Egberto Gismonti and Milton Nascimento— the latter two being represented on this present disc.

It is difficult to harness in words the breadth of Morgan's compositional and arranging talents, even for a musician and journalist such as myself who so resonates with this music. Within merely a measure, he can shift from densely folkloric, polyrhythmic Afro-Cuban or Brazilian textures to transparent and elusively shifting timbres reminiscent of the French Impressionists, Bartók, Neo-Classic Stravinsky, and of course, the more pensive side of Stan Kenton and Gil Evans. This flexibility is enhanced all the more by the timbral and exciting presence of two french horns and two Latin percussionists.

Finally, the New York City venue where Morgan decided to present and record this great music was Birdland, known not only for its place in Jazz history, but its acutely discerning listeners and ability to hold the sonority of a big band with both clarity and richness. Not only I am sure that listeners familiar with any fine music, including that written for Jazz Orchestra, will agree that Gary Morgan's PanAmericana! is not only a unique and organic synergy of Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Jazz and Contemporary elements, but also music of tremendous heart, inspiration, and pointing forward to those horizons that only few musicians can ponder, never mind achieve in the sonicflesh. Gary Morgan deserves tremendous praise and recognition for his work, and like all good grooves in music, it's only a matter of time.

Richard Boukas is a New York City-based guitarist, vocalist, composer, educator and journalist. For more information, visit