City of Angles
is the second CD from the Industrial Jazz Group, one of the most interesting new jazz ensembles on the West Coast scene. Irony abounds in the offerings from the IJG. First of all, there’s nothing “industrial” at all about their music, so you can put away your underlined copies of Walter Benjamin’s essay about the mechanical reproduction of art. And yes, while the IJG is a “new” jazz ensemble, it also pays close attention to the history and forms of jazz.
The operative word here is form, that much abused but vitally essential element of all art. Andrew Durkin, the pianist/leader/composer of the IJG, knows a lot about musical form, and he also has a good time utilizing that knowledge.
So much “new” jazz is merely a hodgepodge of formless, uninteresting, humorless garbage that never swings—a cover for jazzmen who are weak improvisers. The IJG is the exact opposite. This group is composed of the real thing: musicians who could more than hold their own in bands led by Count Basie Band as well as Charles Mingus.
The album, consisting entirely of compositions penned by Durkin, begins with a piece entitled “Theme from the City of Angles.” This fanfare has brass added to the ensemble’s regular lineup of two saxophones and rhythm section. In some ways it reminds me of a Johnny Richards composition that has been reorchestrated for a jazz combo. “Interlude in Krupa” is a kind of oblique homage to the great Goodman drummer, somewhat reminiscent of the small groups he led that featured tenor saxophonist Charlie Ventura.
One very interesting work is “Pince Nez,” which strikes me as a riff on “Billie’s Bounce” done in retrograde motion. It features very nice alto and baritone saxophone solos by reedmen Evan Francis and Cory Wright respectively.
Andrew Durkin does an excellent job of creating a vast number of musical textures from his small ensemble. One case in point is “Tuxedo Trouble,” which features some nice bass clarinet work and a wordless vocal. Maybe it’s just me, but I could swear that I heard a little bit of a combo version of Bill Holman’s well-known big band arrangement of “Malaguena.”
Durkin describes “Full-on Freak” in the liner notes as “an attempt at psychedelic Mingusian crime jazz.” A more apt description might be “post-modern Peter Gunn." The walking bass and contrapuntal entrance of the horns does give it the feel of a score to a film noir.
It is a good idea to listen to City of Angles in conjunction with the group’s first CD Hard Core, because a number of the tunes from the second album seem to be built upon musical themes or ideas taken from the first. For example, the electronic piece “Now That’s What I Call Music” would appear to be an answer to the three-part “What Is Music For?” from Hard Core, and “Losing Proposition” is very similar thematically to “Lucky Duck” from the first album.
The album ends with “Anger Management Classes,” a tune well within the Weather Report/Joe Zawinul ambit.
The Industrial Jazz Group and Andrew Durkin are refreshing finds on the contemporary jazz scene, dominated as it is by the regurgitated pabulum of so-called “lite jazz” which is shallow, not lite, and certainly not jazz. Let’s hope Durkin and company keep up the good fight for music worth listening to.
Personnel: Andrew Durkin, piano, composer, glockenspiel, harpsichord, synthesizer, guitar;
Garrett Smith, trombone; Scott Steen, trumpet; Eldad Tarmu, vibraphone; Daniel
Glass, drums; Cory Wright,bass clarinet, clarinet, soprano/tenor/baritone saxes;
Norman Phillips, guitar; Evan Francis, alto sax, flute; Aaron Kohen,