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Extended Analysis

The Majestic Jazz Orchestra: Axiom Asunder

By Published: January 19, 2007
The Majestic Jazz Orchestra
Axiom Asunder
Carlisle Compositions

The Majestic Jazz Orchestra isn't trying to sound self-important—its grandiloquent name actually honors the newly renovated Majestic Theatre in the orchestra's home base of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The album's title, on the other hand, might be construed, absent any argument to the contrary, as pretentious. It does, however, epitomize what is being presented, namely "four episodes for jazz orchestra, narrator, dance ensemble and choir.

As composer/conductor Buzz Jones explains in the liner notes, the title's origin "lies in simple word definition and in how each musical episode was constructed to form a cohesive whole. I would suggest that jazz is an axiom—that is, a self-evident and universally recognized form of art. In this composition, asunder refers to the division by historical period of America's indigenous music into related episodes.

Putting names and rationale aside, what Jones has produced is a monumental work whose spectacular musical tapestry spans the eras and idioms of jazz from its African roots to swing, boogie, blues, hard bop, cool jazz, gospel, Third Stream and beyond, seamlessly blending melodies, harmonies and rhythms from the Caribbean to New Orleans, Chicago to Kansas City, Harlem to the West Coast. Its every facet is marvelously interpreted by the MJO, Grant Street Dance Company (one can't see them here but can feel their presence) and Gettysburg College World Music Ensemble. Mwangi wa Githînjî, coordinator of African American Studies and assistant professor of economics at Gettysburg College, recites the jazz-inflected poetry of Langston Hughes.

The MJO, formed in 2003 for the express purpose of performing and recording Axiom Asunder, is comprised largely of members of the Buzz Jones Big Band, reinforced on this occasion by guest artists George Rabbai, Jim McFalls, Mike Noonan and John Pineda, whose input is crucial to its success.

Would that space permitted a cogent appraisal of the myriad aspects of Axiom Asunder, the idea for which came to Jones about four years ago during a clinic at the International Association for Jazz Education conference in New Orleans presented by jazz historian and performer Reuben Alvarez. What can be noted is that the concept is brilliant, and that the orchestra and its supporting cast are superb. In fact, almost no aspect of the nearly seventy-minute long performance is less than exhilarating. Rabbai, who sings, scats and plays flugelhorn, proves an ideal collaborator, as do trombonist McFalls, vibraphonist Noonan and bassist Pineda, each of whom frames a number of tasteful solos. And Githînjî is an impressive narrator, his weathered voice conveying a powerful aura of wisdom and authenticity.

Axiom Asunder was created, Jones writes, "as my way of giving back to the community of jazz listeners what has been an integral part of my life for almost forty years. May live music, dance and poetry continue to flourish in the distant future! To that we say amen, Brother Jones—and may your earnest and exultant homage to all that is jazz be widely heard and appreciated, and perhaps even performed by groups at home and abroad in the years to come. And should any accolades or honors happen your way because of it, rest assured that they are beyond any doubt well-deserved.

Tracks: Oceans Apart: Elegna; Cape Roca. Northern Tangents: Konkomba/Red Dawn Blues; 18th and Vine. Coast to Coast: Lenox Avenue at Midnight; Dig and Be Dug; Silver Rain. Groove Machine: LuLu's; The Old Tan Path (68:25).

Personnel: Buzz Jones: composer, orchestrator, music director; Skip Stine, Dale Orris, P.C. King, John King: trumpet, flugelhorn; George Rabbai: trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals; Doug Cook: alto, soprano sax, flute; Steve Fieldhouse: alto sax, flute; Dave Shultz, Dave Godshall: tenor sax, clarinet, alto flute; Rich Semke: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Jim McFalls, Ron Axsom, Clay Sattazahn, Todd Hunter: trombone; Steve Shiffer: bass trombone; George Grund: keyboards; Mike Noonan: vibes, percussion; John Pineda: bass; Tom Hamm: drums; Mike Gambone: congas, auxiliary percussion; Mwangi wa Githînjî: narrator. With the Grant Street Dance Company (Kim Jureckson, artistic director) and Gettysburg College World Music Ensemble (Sharon Davis Gratto, music director).

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