Brent Wallarab's 'The Gennett Suite' Wins German Record Critics Award

The ambitious piece is inspired by Wallarab's longtime admiration for the story and music of Gennett Studios.

By: Nov. 27, 2023
Brent Wallarab's 'The Gennett Suite' Wins German Record Critics Award
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Composer and Indiana University Professor Brent Wallarab's “distinctly American masterpiece” The Gennett Suite performed by the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra has been honored with a German Record Critics' Award as a recording of exceptional artistry and a best new release of 2023's fourth quarter. The ambitious piece is inspired by Wallarab's longtime admiration for the story and music of Gennett Studios, where early jazz icons like Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, and Jelly Roll Morton recorded.

Music critics and journalists from Germany, Austria and Switzerland come together to select outstanding music productions to honor with the German Record Critics' Award. The independent jurors consider artistic quality, repertoire value, presentation, sound quality, and other factors to choose the winners.

"It's an honor and quite humbling to be recognized by the German Critics' Quarterly Award," says arranger, conductor, and co-bandleader Wallarab. "We greatly appreciate the time and attention that the jury took in listening to and considering the many excellent nominations in the Jazz category. This is an award my bandmates, our broader team, and I will always be proud of."
Brent Wallarab's 'The Gennett Suite' Wins German Record Critics Award

The Gennett Suite captures that era in a monumental piece that repurposes music from the Gennett label's influential early records. The album was released on June 9, 2023 on Patois Records, owned by veteran trombonist and educator Wayne Wallace.

Using such classic compositions as “Dippermouth Blues,” “Wolverine Blues,” and “Star Dust,” Wallarab reimagines these legendary themes and personages for a new century. Extended themes, elasticized time, and a host of anachronic techniques like funkified basslines, advanced harmonies, and plush ensemble textures boldly bring the music into the present day while never losing sight of the original material. “These are more than just ‘arrangements' of the tunes,” Wallarab says. “I tried to give each one its own character. . . . [Each] is a unique part of the overall narrative I want to tell.”

Wallarab designed The Gennett Suite in four movements, each of which elevates one of the major jazz tributaries flowing into the Gennett studios in the early 1920s. The first movement, Royal Blue, celebrates some of the label's earliest stars, including Louis Armstrong. The second movement, Blues Faux Bix, focuses on Armstrong's white counterpart, cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, whose cooler sound and more measured approach provided a Midwest alternative to the sounds from New Orleans. Movement 3, Hoagland, highlighting Hoagland Howard (“Hoagy”) Carmichael, includes Wallarab's extraordinary recomposition – and saxophonist Greg Ward's emotionally transcendent interpretation – of “Star Dust.” The final movement, Mr. Jelly Lord, honors Jelly Roll Morton.

“As far as I'm concerned, my job was to create this musical narrative of Gennett,” Wallarab says. In bringing the music of 100 years ago forward, Wallarab has fulfilled his long-held goal to commemorate Gennett. “In 2023, “Gennett is not exactly an unknown,” Wallarab says, but neither is it high in the consciousness of modern listeners. In fact, “A lot of the musicians who played on the session had no idea about the label and his history.” But they surely do now. 

photo by Mark Sheldon


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