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Frank Proto
Afro-American Fragments

Frank Proto's Afro-American Fragments and the other three pieces on this fine disc explore the relation between the jazz and "classical" idioms. The relation between the two kinds of music can be partly described in terms annotator John Chenault uses to describe contemporary American society: "forever fluid, in transition, and fertile with possibilities." The two idioms have a lot in common. Their co-existence is far more complex than many observers on both sides of the stylistic fence seem to believe. Proto's music explores the overlapping areas to create a musical sound-world that is generous in its delights to both listeners and performers. This breakdown in borders is referred to, of course, in the name of his group, the Ensemble Sans Frontière. They give electrifying performances, and they are just as adept at jazz as at "classical" techniques. These pieces use spoken texts (by Langston Hughes and by Chenault) as effectively and musically as I have ever heard. Proto integrates the text reading into the music as fully as any of the instruments. Charles Holmond, the reader, is a full member of the Ensemble, and his performances are an integral part of the musical equation. Excellent sound rounds out the package, helping to make this an exceptional disc.

Stephen D. Hicken
American Record Guide

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The ever productive composer and bassist Frank Proto has created a stirring and important collection of works influenced and based on poems of Langston Hughes. Along with the nine movements which comprise Afro-American Fragments, Proto pays homage to three "prolific, iconoclastic, controversial and influential artists of this century," Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and Miles Davis. The nine Langston Hughes poems that Proto uses as the basis of "Fragments" are read movingly by Charles Holmond. Members of Proto's Ensemble Sans Fronti¸re - bass clarinetist Ronald Aufmann, cellist Norman Johns, and Proto as bassist - create a musical backdrop that at times builds tension and release, and at others serves as a gospel-like setting of call-and-response to the words.

The movements - Afro-American Fragments, American Heartbreak, Sunday Morning Prophecy, Harlem, Dream Boogie, Good Morning, Island, Madam and the Phone Bill, and In Explanation of Our Times - are performed with minimal pause, and constitute a 30-minute piece of "musical theater" of a new order.

The final three pieces are the tributes to the jazz trinity of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Dizzy Gillespie. Following a similar format, the texts of John Chenault are brought to musical life in Mingus - Live in the Underworld, Ode to a Giant, and More than Miles. As a great tribute to Chenault, his texts stand up proudly to the classic verse of Langston Hughes.

All the musicians deserve recognition, and it is pleasurable to hear Proto the jazzman. Subtle quotations of classic bass lines are evoked in reference to the text. Particularly exciting is the extended improvisation between Proto and special guest artist violinist John Blake in the Miles Davis tribute.

This is a must-hear project that, hopefully, will find its way onto both musical and theatrical stages.

Tom Knific
Bass World

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Frank Proto
Afro-American Fragments


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Frank Proto
Afro-American Fragments
Langston Hughes' tribute makes a powerful impression

"What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?"

Those verses and others by Langston Hughes received an eloquent tribute in Frank Proto's "Afro-American Fragments," premiered Friday night by the Cincinnati Symphony Chamber Players at Memorial Hall.

Scored darkly for bass clarinet, cello and double bass, the work incorporates spoken words from nine of Hughes' poems. The narrator was actor/director Charles Holmond, who delivered the text with authority. Instrumentalists were clarinetist Ronald Aufmann, cellist Norman Johns and Proto on bass (all members of the CSO). Together they made a powerful impression.

As in his Ghost In Machine with John Chenault, premiered by the CSO in 1995, Proto makes no compromises with sentiment. Hughes' words are strong, and the music reflects it. Cellist Johns' moving opening soliloquy expressed the pain and bewilderment of having been torn from Africa. The three instruments broke into sudden agitation on "I am the American heartbreak rock on which freedom stumps its toe."

The emotional center of the piece, "Montage of a Dream Deferred," combines four poems in a bluesy exchange.

The piece included guitar-like strumming by Johns against Aufmann's yearning bass clarinet and an improvised solo by Proto that was startlingly expressive.

The final movement, "In Explanation of Our Times," about "folks rarin' up across the world against the ones they call mister," ended in a soft, fragmentary pizzicato.

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Cincinnati Post


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Ensemble Sans Frontière
Afro-American Fragments


Compact Disc: Red Mark CD 9212

Frank Proto has explored a wide range of musical styles during his long and illustrious career as a composer. His understanding of both classical and jazz disciplines in a rare and inspiring thing.

He has done much to break down barriers between these styles, and in doing so he has written pieces for Dave Brubeck, Cleo Laine, Benjamin Luxon, Gerry Mulligan, Eddie Daniels, Duke Ellington and Ruggiero Ricci. His parallel career as a bassist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which lasted for 31 years, underlines just what a remarkable contribution he has made to the music world.

Proto is a fine bassist. His bowed and his pizzicato sound are of the highest order. There are three tracks on this album written by Proto and the poet John Chenault. In the first, Mingus - Live in The Underworld, Proto plays a haunting duet with the narrator Charles Holmond on a dedication to Charles Mingus. Here Proto demonstrates his entire repertoire of sounds, both arco and pizzicato, giving an insight to his virtuosity and creativity. Ode to a Giant is a tribute to the late Dizzy Gillespie, incorporating quotes from Dizzy's Night in Tunisia. Here Proto covers the whole range of the bass beautifully.

This track is followed by a piece dedicated to Miles Davis, on which the two players are joined by violinist John Blake, who also possesses a splendid feel for jazz. There are references to some of Miles' repertoire here, interwoven with passages of counterpoint and improvisation.

Based on nine poems by Langston Hughes, which deal with issues of race in 1950s America, Proto's suite Afro-American Fragments is a moving work. The excellent cellist Norman Johns and bass clarinetist Ronald Aufmann both shine, along with Proto.

The narrator, although a little strong in volume at times, blends well with the musicians on this disc. But Proto's composing, improvising and bass playing skills, along with some delightful work from his colleagues, make this an extremely good album. Highly recommended.

Malcolm Creese
Double Bassist

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Ensemble Sans Frontière
Afro-American Fragments

Bassist/composer Frank Proto's recent compositions, some based on the work of literary laureat Langston Hughes and others in collaboration with poet John Chenault, contiune to mine fertile ground as evidenced on this latest independently released CD, Afro-American Fragments.

Performed by Ensemble Sans Frontière (Proto on bass, Ron Aufmann on bass clarinet, Norman Johns on Cello and dramatist/director Charles Holmond serving as narrator), Afro-American Fragments works in tandem with text.

The title track, which gets its name from a poem written by Hughes, is a fitting start setting the tone of the project. Proto's music underscores Hughes' words reflecting tone and nuances by incorporating a variety of black music idioms. The extended piece has nine movements, one for each narrative that is reflected in the music. Think of it as chamber jazz.

The collaborations with Chenault (who penned the text of Ghost In Machine, the piece commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for its centenninal which earned 13 nominations for the Pulitzer Prize in Music) flow in a distinctly jazz vein - they are homages to three sleeping giants both lyrically and musically. Mingus - Live in the Underworld gives props to Charles Mingus. Ode to a Giant originally a required performance piece for the prestigious International Society of Bassists Competition in 1993 and later augmented by Chenault's text, is a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. The final track, More than Miles, a nod to the controversial trumpeter, has a bonus contribution from jazz violinist John Blake, Jr.

In the hands of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra musicians (Proto recently retired from the orchestra) and Holmond's unique and dead-on delivery of text, Afro-American Fragments is a triumph in testimony to the diversity of the creative spirit.

Rasida Olabisi
The Cincinnati Herald

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Four Scenes After Picasso

Concerto No. 3 for Double Bass and Orchestra

Bassists converge in exuberant style

It was perhaps a sign of music's future that jazz bassist Ray Brown stood onstage in Rice University's music building to cap the biennial convention of the International Society of Bassists. In inviting Brown to perform and receive its Distinguished Achievement Award, the ISB was helping celebrate Brown's 70th birthday. May many more come along. More than any other instrumentalists, bassists today celebrate their dual citizenship.

In accepting the ISB award, Brown told how, when he was a young and learning the bass, jazz and classical bassists never got together, let alone talked to each other. You don't know how wonderful it is, he added, to have lived long enough to see bassists together as they were Saturday evening.

French virtuoso François Rabbath premiered the Concerto No. 3 for Double Bass, Four Scenes After Picasso, by Frank Proto. Rice conductor Larry Rachleff led the ad hoc chamber orchestra. Rabbath played the music of Proto, retired bass player and composer-in-residence of the Cincinnati Symphony, with an astonishingly feathery lightness.

Proto's individualistic piece was a programmatic work based on four Picasso paintings, Cat Catching a Bird, Weeping Woman, First Steps and The Charnel House, which were projected on a large-screen television as the work was played.

Its style was suave, the harmonic idiom dense and dissonant. The inclusion of woodwinds, piano and percussion provided a good contrast for the low-voiced double bass.

Proto's music had vivid character. The best example was the plaintive crying of the second movement, La femme qui pleure (Weeping Woman). Its emotional impact was startling, whether viewed as programmatic or abstract music.

Charles Ward
Houston Chronicle


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Four Scenes After Picasso

Concerto No. 3 for Double Bass and Orchestra

François Rabbath, double bass
Larry Rachleff, conductor
Red Mark Records

Frank Proto composed this tone poem for double bass and chamber orchestra expressly for François Rabbath, to be performed at the 1997 ISB convention in Houston, Texas. For those of us fortunate enough to have been there for the premiere, this CD release has been long awaited. A major work, more than thirty minutes in length, it was inspired by works of Picasso painted in reaction to Franco, the Spanish fasciest dictator. These paintings reflect Picasso's words, "Painting is an instrument of war." The four paintings - Cat Catching a Bird, Weeping Woman, First Steps, and The Charnel House - were projected next to the stage during the premiere performance.

The music begins with an Iberian tinge, but soon, with the aid of brilliant orchestral color and Rabbath's inimitable flair, devolves into the chaos and terror that the times represent. Although extremely virtuosic in nature, the emotional impact is what draws one's attention, allowing the listener to experience a greater conflict. This is a credit to both Proto and Rabbath, and it is hard to imagine a more well-suited or time-tested pairing of creator and interpreter. The first movement concludes with the sound of the approaching army and subsequent bombardment - the bird is caught.

The Weeping Woman weeps as an oboe soliloquy at the beginning of the second movement. Quiet, throbbing strings underpin the aching lyricism of this movement, which are contrasted, at times, by harp, bells and piano in a manner giving the music a surreal, out-of-time quality. In a manner, it is the blues movement.

The lower strings and bass clarinet add to the ominous sense of the third movement. Rabbath introduces a slightly manic waltz that in some ways has the same effect as Ravel's La Valse, by foreshadowing the madness of a slightly earlier time. The movement has very tender moments as well, introduced by a long passage of artificial harmonics. Ultimately, the waltz returns, speeding to its conclusion.

The Charnel House conjures ghastly, errie images. Proto utilizes orchestral techniques reminiscent of Bernard Hermann and other film score composers who have dealth with themes of terror. The Spanish tinge of the very opening is quoted in the final moments of the piece, only this time, there are timpani rumbles underneath. The effect of this, having experienced everything since, is very different. The folksy, mise-en-scene quality of the opening now sounds replaced by a sense of hopelessness. Innocence has been lost.

Rabbath's and the ensemble's performances are stunning throughout. The integrated nature of the music, which is not at all concertante in style, truly projects vivid images. This takes remarkable talent and execution from the performers, since they must collectively tell the story, something that is particularly demanding of the soloist, given the difficulty of his part. Rabbath succeeds in telling the story by bringing focus to the music and not to himself. Four Scenes after Picasso is perhaps the most substantial double bass orchestral project produced at the end of the twentieth century. In the format of a CD Plus, it includes a wide variety of pictorial, video and biographical information, which may be accessed through a computer over the Internet.

Tom Knific
Bass World


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Recording Red Mark CD-plus
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Four Scenes After Picasso

Concerto No. 3 for Double Bass and Orchestra
Red Mark Records CD-p 2001 CD Plus
François Rabbath, double bass performs Frank Proto

1. Chat saisissant un oiseau (Cat Catching a Bird), 9.08 min. - painted in 1939
2. La femme qui pleure (Weeping Woman), 6.27 min. - painted in 1937
3. Les premiers pas (First Steps), 8.09 - painted in 1943
4. Le charnier (The Charnel House), 6.57 - painted in 1944,45

Larry Rachleff, conductor

Recorded June 6, 1997, Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, Houston, Texas
May be played on CD-Player, or on Macintosh and Windows compatible computers

There is too little space to review all aspects of this hybrid CD-Plus in detail, but it is admirable project, another ecidence of the prolific collaboration of Syrian-French double bassist François Rabbath and American double bassist-composer Frank Proto. Surprisingly, Bass Ball, the first of many Rabbath albums was released in 1963 and coincides with Proto's first composition - Sonata 1963. In 1978 Rabbath met Proto and a close friendship quickly developed. Having shared common musical experiences and philosophies resulted in three works for double bass and orchestra in the following years (all available on record), culminating in the Four Scenes after Picasso so far. Although selftaught and unprejudiced, using influences from many musical genres such as classical, jazz and pop - or maybe just because of this fact - Proto developed a naturally growing, individualistic, personal style which has been ever-improving since 1963.

Listen to the concerto as an abstract work and let your own imagination flow or keep the programmatic character in mind - it is always fascinating, diverse in colour, expressivenes and certainly "politically correct". The relationship among the paintings which Picasso created in the years around World War II and the programmatic feel of the concerto is obvious. It was Rabbath himself who, on the occasion of Picasso's 90th birthday in 1971, wrote his composition La Guerre et la Paix (War and Peace) referring to the same cycle of paintings by Picasso, and here the circle closes again with the soloist meeting the composer with his new contribution to complete the picture (of sound).

Proto's individualistic piece was a programmatic work based on four Picasso paintings, Cat Catching a Bird, Weeping Woman, First Steps and The Charnel House, which were projected on a large-screen television as the work was played.

I hear reflections of the painting's message, with Cat Catching A Bird portraying both the ruthless dictator (the Cat) and humanity striving for survival (the Bird), and especially the Weeping Woman with her startling grief and sorrow causing a strong emotional impact. First Steps, an hommage to the young life has some optimistic appeal while the soft, resigned whispers and the outbursts in The Charnel House tell us the saddening story of destruction, devastation and cruelty people became aware of by the end of the war.

Rabbath is the perfect soloist for this music and many passages are obviously written into his hands with their unorthodox technique, reproducing much more than just notes - he seems to talk in music and is almost perfectly well accompanied by the orchestra. Speaking of orchestra and instrumentation, Proto deserves a bravo for his skillful use of strings, harp, woodwinds, piano and percussion always serving the solo instrument.

Moreoever the CD-Plus offers three "talking" movies of 30 minutes length about collaboration, music and the premiere in Houston, Texas during the ISB convention back in 1997. The paintings used for the programmatic music can be looked at in different ways and a huge list of links invites you to a trip into Picasso's world on the web. Biographical information and technical support and a FAQ section make it easy to travel this adventourous expedition. But check it out yourself and enjoy or order the music to play it. As sponsor David Gage says, "... it is important to have new compositions written for the string bass." I certainly agree, especially if composers use their imagination without fear of melody, using somewhat daring harmonies and rich rhythms instead of following fashionable, heartless trends and mathematical rules.

Klaus Schruff
Double Bassist


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Four Scenes After Picasso

Concerto No. 3 for Double Bass and Orchestra
Red Mark Records CD-p 2001 CD Plus François Rabbath, double bass

Frank Proto is surely one of the most important and prolific American composers writing for double bass today. Four Scenes after Picasso (Concerto No. 3) was composed in 1996/7 for the ISB Convention where it was premiered by the legendary soloist François Rabbath.

The CD also acts as a CD-Rom giving further useful information about the work, composer, performer, premiere and, of course, Picasso.

The composer was inspired by four Picasso paintings, dating from 1937 to 1945, which are helpfully included on the CD-Rom, alongside much useful information.

Proto produces musical pictures in an effective and evocative work and although only using a chamber orchestra, is able to produce vivid, dramatic and violent textures when required. The music creates atmospheric and imaginative sound-scapes as he weaves the varying styles and moods together, and this work has more of a feeling of a tone poem than a concerto. The insistent use of snare drum produces a sinister and aggressive war-like feeling, and from 1939 onwards Picasso began voicing his thoughts through his art, and reflected that "Painting is an instrument of war."

Rabbath produces a wonderfully silky and velvety tone and acts as the narrator almost, as the 'story' unfolds. His phrasing is elegant and expansive and much use is made of the entire range of the bass and its many colours and emotions. Rabbath demonstrates many of the wonderful qualities of the solo double bass.

Four Scenes after Picasso is not the traditional type of concerto you would expect, with virtuosic flourishes to demonstrate the wonderful qualities of the soloist, but involves the soloist as part of the overall texture and picture. The orchestra is not just the accompanist here, but is similar to Beriloz's non-concerto, Harold in Italy.

Recommended

Alex Korda
The British and International Bass Forum


Catalog Information for solo bass part
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About the World Premiere Performance