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Live From New York

Big Bands: Wayne Horvitz, Satoko Fujii, Steve Lehman, Kenny Werner & Andrew D'Angelo

By Published: November 9, 2010
New York pianist Kenny Werner
Kenny Werner
Kenny Werner
b.1951
piano
has been building up a steady cross-Atlantic relationship with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. It must have been quite a feat to arrange transportation for this massed band's six-night residency at Dizzy's. Werner seemed to be more comfortable in combining great streams of relaxed solo piano action with his role as conductor. The transitions between activities were seamlessly handled. Most of this second set's pieces were written by the pianist, who has become a kind of honorary leader under these collaborative circumstances. The actual leader, Frank Vaganee, took more of a back seat. The orchestra's forces are robust, and Werner doesn't allow much space in his music. He hurtles towards hard swing. The immediately following After Hours set by the Eyal Vilner Big Band provided a highly suitable continuation of the evening's large band immersion. This is a young gathering of locals who contrastingly set out to leave more open fields in their arrangements. The solos were given greater surround-space, and the band worked up on a steady curve that peaked during "Un Poco Loco" (a Bud Powell
Bud Powell
Bud Powell
1924 - 1966
piano
number), as Vilner led confidently on clarinet.

The Andrew D'Angelo Big Band
University Of The Streets
November 6, 2010

This review selection was all wrapped up and awaiting online-ness, when along came yet another big band gig that demanded inclusion. It somewhat contradicts my earlier proclamation that nothing could subsequently top the New York Composers Orchestra's magnificent performance. Well, we're back at the same venue once more, two weeks later, and Andrew D'Angelo's enlarged combo certainly equalled that earlier gig, and maybe even surpassed it (not that this is in any way a certified big band jousting competition).

Alto saxophonist and composer D'Angelo is an enthusiastic character, to put it mildly. An arrival just before eight found his ranks already seated in position, ready for a prompt start. This is highly unusual in the city which normally waits on late-arriving victims of the subway system and/or their own wilfully hectic existences. In his various small band situations, D'Angelo invariably plays like he's the leader, whether he is or not. He also performs every gig like it's his last night on earth. Whether this is a result of his recent brain trauma, it's hard for your scribe to decide, having only witnessed the reedsman in action post-recovery. Nevertheless, D'Angelo was to speak of spiritual matters during this show, alongside more earthy subjects.

D'Angelo's personality and playing are extremely forceful, but this is a completely positive state. The big band are visibly caught up in his musical philosophy, which balances jazz tradition (swing and blues) with dislocated adventuring (extreme funk time swerves and accumulated riffing contusions). Even though this posse of players is reasonably youthful, D'Angelo is aware of time's passing, fondly recalling the late-1980s jamming workshop after-hours sessions at the UOTS. The longevity of his connections with certain crew members is also such that intuitive bonds have been formed, where soloists such as the saxophonist Bill McHenry can be trusted to transcend what's down on paper.

The closest comparison might be to imagine an early Mothers Of Invention gig. The idea that tightly scripted charts can still be negotiated with an anarchy that creates a continual sense of tension. I long ago decided that a state of clenched tension is a necessary by-product of cookin' improvisation. This should be married to an equal degree of cathartic release. D'Angelo is genuinely on the edge, and there is no comforting anticipation allowed, either amongst the audience or his own ranks. There's a joy in excess, but it's a (barely) disciplined excess. Once D'Angelo sets up his complicated vamp-structures, he might unleash one of his soaring alto solos, horn raised on high, spontaneously delegating conducting duties to baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton, who would himself soon contribute a couple of bullishly raging solos.

There were established works that included "Free Willy," "Gay Disco," and the ballad "I Love You," which is dedicated without too much ego to himself, more as a statement of general life-affirmation. One moment, D'Angelo was sending out a positive prayer to a close friend recently diagnosed with leukemia, asking violist Nicole Federici to open the dedication with a completely solo meditation, then he would be battling with an infestation of late-nite kiddies in the audience, repeatedly having to censor his thoughts and profanities. In the end, he press-ganged four youngsters to sing the vocal chorus of his charging "Big Butt" composition, as they counted up his swearing-slips. Then, the saxophonist went ape, careening around the space, endangering said kids, nearly bending a trombone and hurling a chair to the floor, but still not missing any cue-points!


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