Rob Reddy's Small Town: The Book of the Storm (2007)
Multi-instrumentalist and composer Rob Reddy premiers his most ambitious work to date with The Book of the Storm, a jazz symphony in four movements. The premiere of his large ensemble, the aptly titled Small Town, is not only his first official live recording, but his debut as a conductor.
Similar to contemporary classical composers, Reddy's writing method has long embraced improvisation as an additional element to his intricate pre-written compositions. Rather than using charts and notation as the supporting framework for solo improvisation, Reddy balances pre-written forms and thematic improvisation in equal measure.
Expanding this concept to involve a nineteen-piece ensemble, Reddy employs a number of proficient soloists to interact with the pre-written material. Featuring a who's-who of New York talent, Small Town is a versatile and powerful ensemble. With multiple reeds, brass, a string quartet, a pair of electric guitarists and two drummers, Small Town certainly earns its name.
Recorded live at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York, The Book of the Storm continues Reddy's long-standing interest in spirituals, gospel, blues and folk music. "Spacious Skies/Faithless Bells" opens with atmospheric guitar feedback wafting over churning polyphonic percussion, and a circuitous spiral of contrapuntal horns. Building momentum like the proverbial rising storm, it climaxes with a mosaic of expressive horns and strings that elevates guitarist Brandon Ross' searing fretwork.
Using polyphony, unconventional rhythms in odd meters, orchestral hockets and layered counterpoint, a regal sensibility permeates this long-form work. This is serious music, not without moments of levity, but far removed from the transient nature of the marketplace. Following Reddy's conduction with petulant energy, the massed ensemble moves with monolithic force, drifting like tectonic plates composed of pure sound.
While Reddy's rich, evocative ensemble writing is the primary focus, a number of soloists stand out. Electric violinist Charles Burnham dominates the episodic "God Damn" with expansive lyricism. Erstwhile bassist Dom Richards' meditative solo feature at the conclusion of "Faithless Bells" provides respite to John Carlson's blazing trumpet feature on the same piece. Jon Margulies' blistering guitar solo on the roiling "Fool's March" and Mark Taylor's haunting French horn statements on "Amongst The Ruins" are additional highlights.
Closing with the powerful "Amongst The Ruins," a somber meditation filled with low brass and languorous martial drumming, the ensemble drifts away into the ether as the drums fall silent.
Dense and uncompromising, yet accessible and infinitely rewarding, The Book of the Storm is Reddy's most fully realized work yet, a high water mark in an ever expanding discography.
Track Listing: Spacious Skies/Faithless Bells; God Damn; Fool's March; Amongst The Ruins.
Personnel: Rob Reddy: composer and conductor; Oscar Noriega: clarinet and bass clarinet; Steve Elson: flute and soprano saxophone; Cochemea Gastelum: alto saxophone; Tim Otto: soprano and tenor saxophones; Lisa Parrott: soprano and baritone saxophones; John Carlson: trumpet; Bob Scarpulla: trumpet; Mark Taylor: French horn; Lis Rubbard: French horn; Curtis Hasselbring: trombone; Charles Burnham: violin; Sarah Bernstein: violin; Marlene Rice: viola; Mary Wooten: cello; Dom Richards: double bass; Brandon Ross: acoustic and electric guitars; Jon Margulies: electric guitar; Pheeroan akLaff: drums; Guillermo E. Brown: drums.