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Exploring More Exploratory Ensembles

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Jazz, like most every form of music, comes in many different styles and shapes. So it only makes sense that the musicians who create jazz will gather and organize themselves into ensembles of different sizes and shapes, too. These days, musicians and producers can go one step further and collaborate with other musicians and producers that they've never even met, thanks to the technology of samples, remixes and loops. Here's one survey of contemporary ensembles exploring different sizes and sounds.

The Paul Carlon Octet
Roots Propaganda
Deep Tone
2008

"I am interested in combining all roots music," explains saxophonist, bandleader, composer, and educator Paul Carlon. "Not necessarily to make a point, but because I love it all. So I'm trying to take these disparate elements and put them into a jazz context." Carlon continues, "That was the idea behind Roots Propaganda. We need some propaganda for this kind of music."

"This kind of music" boasts a uniquely powerful and genuine Afro-Cuban spirit thanks to its percussive rhythms, twin trombone engine blasts (from Ryan Keberle and Mike Fahie), and marvelously complementary vocal accents from the exotic Christelle Durandy, born in France to parents from Guadalupe and Madagascar.

Recorded and mixed in New York City and Sao Paulo, Roots Propaganda is ambitious in concept and execution. The primal "Ochun" starts on the ground floor, solitary saxophone singing its traditional melody then introducing a tribal vocal chant with accompanying flute and percussion. The dynamic opener "Backstory" lifts you several floors higher, as its percussion and horn charts dance together in lusty Latin rhythm. Though it ebbs and flows, "The Most Beautiful Thing" is constantly energized by the crackling rhythms from drummer William "Beaver" Bausch and percussionist Max Pollak.

Carlon's "The Limiter" caps the summit: An acoustic piano trio sketches the opening, then drummer Bausch shifts into a steady rocking four as pianist John Stenger dashes from corner to corner to fill out the sketch, calling in horns and other instruments to nurture a full Latin jazz orchestra which blossoms from its opening sketch.

Carlon even simmers two blues into his meaty Afro-Cuban stew. The trombone brightly leads an instrumental cakewalk through "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" that burns with true Afro-Cuban spirit, with music that's sometimes a little wobbly and blue but always full of energy and promise too. As the title track dies down, its embers erupt with fiery tongues of Latin brass into the "Hard Times Killin' Floor Blues," an exquisite genre-melting segue that genuinely captures the authentic Latin, jazz, and Latin jazz spirits of Carlon's Roots Propaganda muse.

"I don't want to beat people over the head with being deep," Carlon admits. "I want to have a good time, and I want the audience to have a good time whether they catch all the details or not."

Delirium Blues Project
Serve or Suffer
Half Note
2008

This all-star jazz-meets-R&B project, recorded live at the Blue Note in August '07 is orchestrated by vocalist Roseanna Vitro and pianist Kenny Werner who contributes several head-spinning arrangements of familiar blues, rhythm and blues, and not-quite-blues. The album certainly gets an "A" for effort. "I found the writing process fascinating. Some of the tunes were very familiar in their original recorded versions, but I still wanted to give them a new spin," enthuses Werner. "That required me to honor the essence of what made them work the first time around—whether they were funky or nasty or rockin."

Werner's opening rearrangement of the '70s R&B classic "What is Hip?" comes blasting out like a cannonball and smartly retains most of the original Tower of Power horn chart, which maximizes the considerable punch of the Delirium all-star horns: Ray Anderson (trombone), Randy Brecker (trumpet), James Carter (tenor sax) and Geoff Countryman (baritone sax, bass clarinet). "Cheater Man" similarly plays rough and tumble but with the big-band R&B meets blues sound of Roomful of Blues, especially when the horns play cat-and-mouse with Rocky Bryant's whippersnap snare in the bridge.

Joni Mitchell's "Be Cool" fits Vitro's voice and delivery best, with Werner's arrangement wafting comfortably in Mitchell's ethereal and floating jazz-pop fusion, bobbing like a balloon after air punches from its horn chart. Werner's take on "Blue," co-written by Jon Hendricks, echoes the classic "big band with vocalist" sound: Overlaying horns harmonize the introduction, then step aside for Vitro's dance with Werner's acoustic piano to time softly kept by brushes; Vitro steps aside in turn for James Carter's well-trimmed alto solo.


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