New Jazz Composers Octet: The Turning Gate (2008)
Intricate compositions often provide the best substrate for complex and satisfying improvisation. This holds true for the New Jazz Composer's Octet's The Turning Gate, which includes five short compositions and one long suite made up of six movements. Each piece serves as a vehicle for group interplay and interpretation, and as a platform for one or two of the musicians to exhibit their improvisational skills during individual solos.
The six-movement "Faith Suite" (the last two movements appear first, out of order, then the first four come in a row) is the centerpiece of the album. Composed by Xavier Davis, it features solos by the pianist throughout, plus a different horn solo per movement.
The rest of the tracks are far from fillers around this longer work; in fact, they all stand alone as interesting and accomplished musical inventions.
The music is more edgy than neo-classical post-bop jazz, but not quite as adventurous as an avant-garde record. The compositions, although by different musicians, maintain a unity of theme and feeling without ever being monotonous or repetitive. They are a bit rough on the edges but, despite that, are quite enjoyable even after a couple of listens.
There are hints of 1950s-60s Duke Ellington and, even though there are only eight of them, the group gives the impression of being a larger band.
Trumpeter David Weiss is the ensemble's nominal leader, but this is very much a democratic group, with each musician demonstrating instrumental mastery and, in some cases, prowess at composing memorable pieces.
There is a lot of compositional and improvisational talent involved here, and the musicians are very much in sync with each other. Although memorable, this may not be groundbreaking enough to be considered a classic, but it definitely whets the appetite for more from the Octet in the near future.
Track Listing: The Turning Gate; New (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego); David and Goliath; Once; Bad Alchemy; The Faith Suite (In the Beginning; Twilight; The Doubtful; Panic); Onward.
Personnel: David Weiss: trumpet, flugelhorn; Myron Walden: alto sax, flute (10); Jimmy Greene: tenor sax and soprano sax, flute (8); Steve Davis: trombone; Norbert Stachel: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Xavier Davis: piano; Dwayne Burno: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.