January 2012: Craig Ebner, Ravi Coltrane, Lucas Brown and Norman David
After 30 years of constant development, composer Norman David and his Eleventet have finally found a home at Plays and Players, an intimate theatre tucked away in one of Center City Philadelphia's many side streets. The Eleventet has a regular monthly booking at the theatre, and has used the opportunity to codify its individual sound. The band's lineup is fairly consistent, but guests do occasionally perform with the group or sub in for other musicians when they are unavailable. With a seemingly endless repertoire, the band provides a unique experience to repeat listeners, who pay only $8 to hear two burning sets of music.
It was obvious that David's musical palette extends far beyond the realm of jazz. Certain characteristics of 20th century classical music are very apparent in his compositions, but in a style which is less jarring to an audience comprised mainly of jazz fans. Certain pieces contained melodies based on 12-tone rows, while dense chords voiced across the horn section provided a basis for free improvisation. During David's"Not Again," each horn player held one note of a dissonant chord voicing while David and the rhythm section improvised freely until the piece naturally found its way back to the original melody. Each musician seemed to have a natural sense of where the music wanted to go, and they were afforded the freedom to explore each composition to its fullest extent.
David did not provide much specific direction to the band, rarely signaling more than a few cues during the solo sections. His style relied on the versatility of the band and ultimately allowed a more natural sound to emerge. The Eleventet did not operate in the style of a big band, instead favoring an approach closer to that of a smaller group, where more aspects of the music are left to interpretation. Interaction and improvisation were the general themes of each performance, and the group never stuck to deliberate arrangements or preconceived solos.
Eleventet is one of the city's best-known jazz groups; featuring some of Philadelphia's best soloists, including alto saxophonist Mike Cemprola and pianist Tom Lawton, it was certainly great to hear everyone stretch out. Each musician was well-versed in the jazz tradition and a conventional smaller group setting where the freedom to explore new musical territory was uninhibited. What made this group unique was that none of this was lost simply because there were eleven players instead of three or four. Few jazz groups have as much fun as The Eleventet appears to, at each and every show.