The New World Jazz Composers Octet thrives on the old school idea of jazz composition as conduit to great jazz performance, and its third album, Breaking News, puts theory to practice from the outset with Matthew Nicholl's "Poco Picasso." The jutting melodic angles and tightly orchestrated front line arrest on their own merits, while also spurring pianist Tim Ray
The composers featured on Breaking News also avoid the labyrinthine chord progressions and tortuous formal experiments that become ends in themselves in so much contemporary writing. The swirling textures and intricate layers that introduce Richard Lowell's "Warp 7, Now!" evoke one of Star Trek's Captain Kirk's wrong turns, but the harmonically arresting head inspires a driving sax duet between Felipe Salles
. Nicholl's ballad "Wishful Thinking" starts out simply and effectively with an undulating, regretful theme, but it's given room to expand into triumph through a muscular tenor sax solo.
Smith founded the NWJCO in 2000 as a creative outlet for fellow Berklee College of Music faculty members and other local talent around his native Boston. The selection of "Breaking News" for the title track speaks to this ensemble's identity as both composers' workshop and performers' collective. Trumpeter Walter Platt
's tarter tone in "Warp 7, Now!" Only on Salles' otherwise hauntingly catchy "Children's Waltz" do soloists merely express technical facility, and the spoken word and bitter horn choirs of Jeff Friedman
Whatever the "new world" looks like, the NWJCO partners with composers who appreciate melody, texture and groove. That either makes it old-fashioned or perennially modern. Either way, Breaking News manages to stay intriguing, without being inundating.
Personnel: Daniel Ian Smith: saxophones, flute; Ken Cervenka: trumpet, flugelhorn; Walter Platt: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tim Ray: piano; Keala Kaumeheiwa: acoustic bass; Ernesto Diaz: percussion; Felipe Salles: saxophones, flute; Mark Walker: drums; Catherine Hazel Smith: spoken word.