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Extended Analysis

The New Talent Jazz Orchestra: The Sound Of New York Jazz Underground

By Published: January 13, 2005
The New Talent Jazz Orchestra
The Sound Of New York Jazz Underground
Fresh Sound New Talent

Modern jazz fans could throw darts at a board listing Fresh Sound New Talent albums and probably hit a winner nine times out of ten. So leave it to this label to come up with an artists' collaboration that is scary good when so many like-minded efforts are tepid market-driven failures.

The Sound Of New York Jazz Underground features 47 of the label's artists gathering as The New Talent Jazz Orchestra for a four-day recording session. Eight composers oversee one song on each of the album's two discs, the first devoted to originals and the second to arrangements of standards.

It's tempting to recommend it without hesitation, but a more realistic guideline is whether listeners consider the marriage of big band and a group like The Bad Plus a match made in heaven or something that ought to be outlawed with a constitutional amendment. This is first and foremost a triumph of composition and interpretation by the arrangers. It may make sense to listen to the second disc first where the twists on familiar material offer a better frame of reference into their work.

Gershwin inherits a Hummer on Frank Carlberg's tour of "I Got Rhythm," for instance, a dark series of abruptly shifting free segments bearing little obvious resemblance to the showtune beyond a frenetic pace and a few discordant lyrics. Wayne Shorter fans will at least recognize "Witch Hunt," which arranger Andrew Rathnu tweeks primarily by giving the melody an odd-meter treatment. The solos are solid, with a few such as Diego Urcola's never-say-rest trumpet on "Rhythm" inspiring, and remarkably varied—Ben Monder's electric guitar actually cradles listeners on "Witch Hunt."

The originals are, of course, where the arrangers get to strut. An easy to absorb entry comes on Jason Lindner's opening "Meditation On Two Chords," a somewhat modal tune with rich but evenhanded vocals from Kim Smith. Frank Carlberg's "Heaven" takes a poem of that name by Robert Creeley and gives it an "Andrew Lloyd Webster pens acid jazz for the circus" spin (and yet, there's Monder's guitar again). Guillermo Klein's "Jumbo-Buen Dia Dia," based on a song he heard once on TV twenty years ago, sounds at various times like an orchestral tuneup, a world beat chant and groove funk ("I don't think that the rhythm pitches or lyrics of what I wrote remained close" he notes).

Speaking of notes, the ones accompanying the album offer a praiseworthy overview of the project, performers and descriptions from the arrangers of their thinking behind each song. A companion DVD, available separately or as part of a package, offers assorted clips that provide insight into the session, but doesn't have enough heft to recommend as a standalone purchase. The eight chapters focus on each arranger, but more in a documentary than performance sense, and each must be selected manually instead of simply allowing the entire disc to play through.

As a label showcase The Sound Of New York Jazz Underground is unquestionably a success, although it's worthy noting some prominent names are missing—including those from the previously mentioned The Bad Plus, arguably the label's highest profile act. But since FSNT's name emphasizes new performers, it probably makes more sense anyhow to sample a collection of unfamiliar names without making comparisons to relative celebrities.

Tracks: CD 1 (originals): A Meditation On Two Chords; Heaven; Petite Promenade; Nine; Jumbo-Buen Dia Dia; Escondido; El Acecho; Noosh. CD2 (arrangements): Me Voy Quedando; Nannou; Silhouettes; Witch Hunt; Nefertiti; Ahmad Ravel-Au Clair De La Lune; I Got Rhythm; Giant Steps.

Personnel: Taylor Haskins, Diego Urcola, Richard Nant - trumpet, fluggelhorn; Phil Grenadier, Avishai Cohen, Russ Johnson - trumpet; Avi Lebovich, Sandro Tomasi, Alan Ferber, Max Siegel, Dana Leong - trombone; Jamie Baum, Helen Richman - flute; Anat Cohen, Miguel Zenon, Jaleel Shaw, Chris Cheek, Jason Hunter, Andrew Rathbun, Bill McHenry, Marcus Strickland, Eli Degibri, Jimmy Greene, Adam Kolker, Chris Karlic, Frank Basile - saxophones; Magali Souriau, Frank Carlberg, Aaron Goldberg - piano; Jason Lindner, Guillermo Klein - piano, Fender Rhodes; Jorge Rossy - Fender Rhodes; Ben Monder - electric guitar; Matt Pavolka, Matt Penman, John Hebert - doublebass; Brandon Owens, Fernando Huergo - electric bass; Jeff Hirshfield, Mark Ferber - drums; Jeff Ballard, Jorge Rossy - drums and percussion; Franco Pinna - drums and bombo leg'ero; Daniel Freedman - percussion; Claudia Acu'a, Christine Correa, Chiara Civello - vocals.

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