Mike Barone / National Youth Jazz Orchestra / Vaughn Wiester / Dutch Jazz Orchestra
Evans and Mulligan would interweave their talents in 1949-50 as among the chief architects of Miles Davis' groundbreaking album, The Birth of the Cool. While opening a window on their early development, Moon Dreams leaves no doubt about the direction in which each of these soon-to-be giants was moving. Mulligan's sunny, animated compositions and arrangements presage his later alliances with Chet Baker, the Concert Jazz Band and other straight-ahead groups with such ebullient sidemen as Zoot Sims, Bob Brookmeyer and Bill Crow. Evans, on the other hand, was laying the groundwork for more exploratory work with Davis, the Monday Night Orchestra and his own Gil Evans Orchestra. Listen, for example, to how Evans re-orchestrates Charlie Parker's iconic "Yardbird Suite," the standard "Lover Man" or the extended "Easy Living" medley.
Mulligan, on the other hand, plows a smoother furrow, wandering afield only on "Rose of the Rio Grande," whose melody is scarcely present but whose rhythmic thrust remains unimpaired. The DJO, by any measure a world-class ensemble, has no problem embodying either style; the band is as secure and unerring on Mulligan's breezy arrangement of "Broadway" as it is on "Spanish Dance" or any of the sinuous Evans charts. Along the way, a number of admirable soloists step confidently into the breach including trumpeter Ruud Breuls, alto Marco Kegel, tenor Simon Rigter, baritone Nils Van Haften, trombonists Martijn Sohier and Ilja Reijngoud, French hornist Morris Kliphuis ("Joost at the Roost"), guitarist Martijn Van Iterson and pianist Rob Van Bavel.
Shining as it does a light on the formative handiwork on Evans and Mulligan, Moon Dreams carries innate historical significance. Beyond that, the Dutch Jazz Orchestra proves again that it can master any musical blueprint, whatever its scope or purpose, and do so with authority and elan. Its latest album earns a blue ribbon in both arenas.
Edge of the Mind
Edge of the Mind underscores the compositional and arranging talents of David Schumacher (tracks 1, 2, 5, 7) and JC Sanford (3, 4, 6, 8, 9), late of the New England Conservatory, both of whom studied composition / orchestration with George Russell and Bob Brookmeyer, among others. Their vehicle of choice is Sound Assembly, an eight-year-old New York-based seventeen-piece orchestra whose members are seasoned pros and quickly erase any doubts about their being able to navigate these recurrently choppy waters with relative ease.
Schumacher gets the prismatic parade under way with "Breaking Point" and "Edge of the Window," the first using dissonance and 3-4 rhythms to drive home its peripatetic point, the second a more decorous theme for trumpeter John Bailey, pianist Deanna Witkowski and alto Eric Rasmussen. Sanford's "Slide Therapy" skids inexorably into the abstract, complementing chaotic solos by soprano Dan Willis and guitarist Andrew Green, before "Chuck 'n Jinx" restores a modicum of conformity, swinging smartly along behind cogent ad libs by trombonist Mark Patterson and bassist David Ambrosio. For hard-core jazz fans, that may plausibly epitomize the album's apogee.
Kate McGarry lends her pellucid voice to Schumacher's smooth-flowing "Radiance of Spring," which also showcases Dave Riekenberg's expressive baritone sax. Sanford's "Rhythm of the Mind," a free-sounding theme that encompasses not one but two clarinet solos, by Ben Kono (bass clarinet) and Rasmussen, plus three mantras recited by a male chorus, precedes Schumacher's lyrical "My Star," a more accessible anthem that accommodates candid statements by Ambrosio, trombonist Alan Ferber and trumpeter David Smith. Witkowski introduces Sanford's "Ives, Eyes," a picturesque tone poem that uses rubato throughout to enhance its musical temperament, after which Sanford closes the deal with the aggressive "BMT," spotlighting Kono (on tenor sax), Bailey and virtuosic drummer John Hollenbeck.
These are in essence thought-provoking works that commands one's unwavering awareness and consideration. If due diligence is given, the rewards can be sizable, but only for those whose taste runs to the avant-garde. It's an ample meal but one that is most easily digested by epicures.
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