‘Just Jazz’ From Bells Of the Sound Challenges the Traditional Bell Album

Posted By Derek Nance on Dec 14, 2013 |

There are not many time that I get truly excited about a new handbell album, but this is one of those moments.  Bell of the Sound have been teasing us for months on their Facebook with pictures of the recording studio and videos on their YouTube, but finally Just Jazz, an entire album of handbells performing jazz, released this past week.  Yes, that was not a typo.  From Gershwin to Ellington, this album has many of your favorite jazz classics arranged for bells.  Some of the arrangements are by composers bell musicians would recognize, but others are done by group members.  Take for instance this arrangement of “My Funny Valentine” arranged by former Bells of the Sound member Loren Milliman.  This was the first track I opened when they sent me the preview files, and I sat transfixed for the whole 4 minutes and 25 seconds.  The sparse, perfectly played bell lines compliment the sultry voice of Elliot Lewis beautifully, pulling the listener into the recording.  Take a listen in this exclusive preview:

Speaking of amazing arrangements by ringers from the group, Robin Pentland’s arrangement of “Take the ‘A’ Train” captures the grove of the full jazz band version.  “I’m humbled by the hard work everyone put into pulling off A Train” says Pentland.  “It was a real challenge for a lot of spots and it sounds so good!!”  In full disclosure, Robin is a friend that I met at the Virtuoso Experience this summer, but I think you’ll hear why I’m so excited about this track.

They also gave me one more full track for everyone to enjoy.  Here is “The Glad Sound Blues”, an original blues piece  by Michael Mazzatenta done in the traditional 12 bar blues format.  The sparse way the piece is written can be intimidating to many musicians, but the ringers nail all the riffs perfectly.

There are also a couple tracks on the album I can only share clips from, starting with this amazing performance of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” arranged by Dean Wagner.  When asked about the piece, Shirley Lindberg said “It’s amazing, when you consider how fabulous the music is, all the extras we pulled from the piano score that add so much color and shimmer to a great arrangement, and the execution of the glissandos, the trills, and the arpeggiated chords.”  Jennifer Vangolen added, “I sort of feel like we’re 70’s rock band rebels by having a track that’s 9:10 long on this CD”, but after listening to the iconic first clarinet slide performed on bells this author is hooked.  Now I just have to wait for my copy of the CD to arrive in the mail to hear the other 8 minutes and 40 seconds.

One other thing Bells of the Sounds does extraordinarily well is add other instruments to the ensemble.  “Chimes are used quite a bit for a different voice – or in the case of Misty, a different mood” noted Vangolen.  “There’s tenor sax on Bell Bossa, harmonica on St. Louis Blues, and voice on My Funny Valentine. And percussion. A lot of percussion, thanks to the amazing Kevyn Ness!”  There have been drums in several of the recordings above, but our last clip features bells and jazz harmonica.  Ringer Matthew Winningham summarizes the added instruments perfectly.  “That we all know so many other musicians that we can pull off a CD of this caliber and of this genre of music that is so far from most people’s impression of handbells astounds me every time…and I’ve played bells for 25+ years.”  Enjoy this clip of “Saint Louis Blues” arranged by Susan T. Nelson.

Bells of the Sound recording

Bells of the Sound recording

So there you have it, handbells performing jazz.  There are still another 7 tracks you’ll have to buy to album to hear.  The full album includes all these tracks:

  1. In The Mood – Joe Garland/arr. Hart Morris
  2. Take the ‘A’ Train – Billy Strayhorn/arr. Robin Pentland
  3. Rhapsody in Blue – George Gershwin/arr. Douglas E. Wagner
  4. Bell Bossa – Ron Mallory
  5. St. Louis Blues – W.C. Handy/arr. Susan T. Nelson
  6. Enhebrado de la Aguja Del Espacio – Matthew Prins (Threading the Space Needle)
  7. My Funny Valentine – Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers/arr. Loren Milliman
  8. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore – Duke Ellington/arr. Paul W. Allen
  9. Tigress Rag – Larry Sue
  10. A Night in Tunisia – Frank Paparelli and Dizzy Gillespie/arr. Robin Pentland
  11. Misty – Erroll Garner/arr. Arnold B. Sherman
  12. Glad Sound Blues – Michael Mazzatenta

I am always excited to find new and innovative ways to play bells, which is why I thought it was so important to spotlight this ground breaking album by Bells of the Sound.  Copies of the new CD can be purchased from the Bells of the Sound’s website.  It would make a great present for the bell enthusiast in your life.  Mine’s already in the mail!