Dave Brubeck: Small Groups, Large Stature
Fedchock solos nimbly on the genial opener, "Blues for Bonnie Belle" (named for Hess's pet dog), again (with trumpeter Al Hood and alto John Gunther) on "Finding the Evidence" (inspired by a well-known piece by Thelonious Monk) and on the rapid-fire "Psalm to Hymn." Although Hess doesn't say so in the liner notes, the tenor solos on "Bonnie Belle," "Speak to Me" and "Psalm to Hymn" are presumably his, as no one else is mentioned. Tenor Peter Sommer steps front and center with trumpeter Ron Miles for persuasive solos on "Chutes and Ladders." "Psalm," the album's most expansive essay at 16:36, is a tribute to John Coltrane's "modal period," which to many is synonymous with his "discordant period." While Hess nods briefly to that (immediately following Fedchock's virile solo), the "Psalm" is for the most part decidedly straight-ahead and swinging, embodying assertive statements by Hess, Wilson, Gunther and pianist Marc Sabatella. Wilson, trombonist Nelson Hinds and alto Wil Swindler solo strongly on the kaleidoscopic "How 'Bout Now."
Of his three big-band recordings, Hess says Speak is "the best yet." No one here intends to argue the point, which is clearly a matter of opinion, albeit from someone whose viewpoint should be respected. What can be said is that the album stands securely on its own and is a worthy successor to the first two, Hold On and Into the Open. For those who are conversant with Hess's music, no more need be said; for those who aren't, check it out.
Florencia Gonzalez Big Band
Woman Dreaming of Escape
Woman Dreaming of Escape is a splendid debut recording by Uruguayan-born saxophonist Florencia Gonzalez' New York-based big band, replete with engaging melodies and authentic rhythms, from South America and elsewhere. Gonzalez formed the band in Boston in 2007 and moved it to New York City four years later, after it was named one of the five best bands in the Boston area. While the membership has, presumably, undergone some changes, those who perform on Woman Dreaming prove quite capable of assimilating Gonzalez' elaborate and forward-leaning charts, among the more raveled of which is "Miniatura Cromatica," a bow to the music of Bela Bartok and Gustav Mahler that, in Gonzalez' words, "visits the 12 tones, making them one by one the centers of small universes"meanwhile giving the listener a lot of sustenance to chew on.
Gonzalez' other compositions are far more accessible (and melodic), starting with the lyrical curtain-raiser, "Hurry," and including "Woman Dreaming of Escape" (an "abstract tango" inspired by Stravinsky, Osaldo Puliese and Joan Miro), "Chacarera for Greg," "Candombe Estirado" and last but not least, "DEFG Blues," variations on a theme written by Bob Brookmeyer for the Thad JonesMel Lewis Orchestra in the '60s. The graceful "Chacarera," Gonzalez notes, "is deeply influenced by the music of two female composers: Paule Maurice and Maria Schneider," while "Candombe Estirado" (literally, Stretched Candombe), introduced by drummer Franco Pinna, "is a tribute to Duke Ellington," she writes, "his crazy harmonies, the darkness of his music and his Africanisms, and to the Africanisms of [her] own country." The Brookmeyer-influenced "Blues" is a chromatic theme in which Gonzalez took a tone row and built the entire piece "based on this row, from the bass line to the harmony, voicings, etc."
Ample room in each of her compositions is reserved for improvisation, primarily for woodwinds (Gonzalez herself is a saxophonist, although she doesn't play on the album). Another Gonzalez, Sofia, is one of three flute soloists on "Chacarera" (the others are Susanna Quilter and Art Felluca). Felluca, on clarinet, is the featured soloist on "Miniatura Cromatica." Guitarist Diego Porchile shares solo space with tenor saxophonist Andrew Halch on "Hurry," with pianist Andrew Washburn and alto Nick Brust on "Woman Dreaming." Others who take their turn in the spotlight are trumpeters Chris Kottke and Greg Marchand, tenor Andy Voelker, trombonist Tim Schneier and drummer Pinna, each of whom is proficient and technically sound.
Even so, Woman Dreaming is in most respects a showcase for Gonzalez' ultra-modern compositions and arrangements, and she doesn't disappoint. As another flag-bearer in the ranks of such avant-garde writers as Schneider, Carla Bley, Hazel Leach, Christina Fuchs and others, Gonzalez has made the sort of remarkable beginning that presages a bright and productive future.
Ezra Weiss / Rob Scheps Big Band
Our Path to This Moment