Big Bands: Wayne Horvitz, Satoko Fujii, Steve Lehman, Kenny Werner & Andrew D'Angelo
Fujii modestly spoke of her eternal learning stance when penning large-scale music, giving ample credit to her players in realizing the new pieces that had so far existed mostly inside her cranium. The bulk of this set was taken up with a suite-like piece that's an advance present for husband Tamura's 60th birthday in 2011 (his advanced age was something of a surprise, given his relatively youthful appearance!). There are complex mathematical reasons why this occasion is so significant in the Japanese calendar, and most of them, strangely, derive from the Chinese zodiac. So, to simplify immensely, each member of the orchestra got to be an animal, related to a relevant year.
Considering that she's been creating works for a big band palette since 1996, some of Fujii's directions and shapings appeared quite basic: there would be sudden signals given to shunt the sound from one side to the other, or to alter the ensemble's volume. There were frequent contrasts between very sparse (sometimes completely solo) burbling and aggressive stabbing from the entire cast. This exposed spotlighting was often at the expense of more graduated or detailed shading from one of these extremes to the other. Robertson was as strikingly theatrical as ever, and Krauss startled with his scrunched-fabric muting, producing a rattlingly high-pitched throttling sound. The actual themes-for-all were quite predictable in nature, especially following the NYCO's gig the previous evening. The centerpiece zodiac suite was the main offender, ultimately sounding very episodic, tantalizing and inconclusive, rather than delivering the raw animal meat.
The Steve Lehman Octet
(le) Poisson Rouge
October 26, 2010
Does an octet count as a big band? During the recession, yes. Saxophonist Steve Lehman surely writes with an orchestra ringing in his head, as the taut interlacings of his carefully-chosen instrumentation create an end-sound that gives the illusion of bigger battalions. He's very much leaping out of the Steve Coleman stream, sharing similar concerns with The Claudia Quintet, who might be this octet's closest comparison-point. Lehman's music is like a streamlined plastic sinew construction, a transparent body of sleek melodies-in-progress, vein networks shimmering. Its riffing nature might explain the ridiculously headbanging response of a small audience faction (well, two members), highlighting the way in which certain younger jazzers are connecting with a fan-base that are mostly versed in rock. Overall, this was a healthily-sized gathering for a Tuesday night, and a gig that wasn't listed in the jazz press.
Tim Berne and his extended family might be mentioned as another collective group who have emphasized (admittedly very complex) ensemble riffing rather than separately minnowing solo individuality. Could math rock have now bred math jazz? Lehman's onstage presentation is quite curious. He makes jokes or amusing observations, then immediately retracts them. This isn't irony. This is someone who'd rather just deliver his music, and keep his mouth shut.
The octet boasts an inspired construction, with Mark Shim contrasting tenor saxophone with the leader's alto (and soloing with a greater ruggedness that almost sounds rebellious within the context of this combo). Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and trombonist Jacob Garchik complete the front line, whilst Dan Peck dances away on tuba, never stepping on the bass-feet of Drew Gress. It's probably Chris Dingman's vibraphone that prompts the Claudia comparison. The drummer is Cody Brown.
The repertoire was not surprisingly dominated by the octet's 2009 debut album Travail, Transformation And Flow. The band's individuality grows out of a collective strength, enlarging the personality of its leader, but still containing the essence of its uncompromising membership. Their only disadvantage is that no one gets dirty, and there's rarely a sense of unpredictable danger. Their motion is generated as an overall body-mind feeling rather than as a spontaneous reaction to real-in-the-room sonic friction.
Kenny Werner & The Brussels Jazz Orchestra/The Eyal Vilner Big Band
October 26, 2010