Scenes from an Exit Row is a simply wonderful, unique mainstream recording and a perfect example of one the main problems in jazz today: that such high quality composing and arranging, not to mention the performances of the musicians involved, can easily get lost in the mass of new releases. There is such a surfeit of riches of so many talented people putting out much great music in a multitude of styles that many listeners, even those sympathetic to jazz, might never know that such a record even exists, which would be their loss. Jordi Pujol of Fresh Sound must be given an enormous amount of credit to be giving many such deserving musicians, including Alan Ferber and his nonet, the chance to get their music heard.
The main feeling of the music is the joy of being alive, communicated through the composing, arranging, and playing of jazz. Alan Ferber (not to be confused with Mark Ferber, his twin brother) has put together a set of tracks that show off his writing and arranging skills in a most natural way, without really calling attention to himself, and balance the natural tension between improvisation and arrangement in a larger group setting. The ensemble writing that demarks the sections is superb and very rich sounding as he blends his forces in different ways using colorful and intriguing harmony. Perhaps the best comparison might be to a bit mellower, less quirky Either/Orchestra in the way that the group can expand and shrink its sound and the quality of its solos, but this group is less tongue-in-cheek.
Ferber's original tunes have a kind of long-limbed, unrolling quality that make them hard for me to remember (as opposed to the Gigi Gryce tune "Reunion and the more standardly constructed "Long Lost ), but they nevertheless are able to carry the development of each approximately eight-minute period. Stylistically, Ferber likes to tell stories through sectional development with ensemble playing leading to solos with various kinds of background scoring. He manages to score sections of seeming freedom (as in "Scenes From An Exit Row ), include some very effective dissonance ("Reunion ), and break out unexpectedly into charging swing (Kenny Wheeler's "Kayak ).
Emotionally he ranges from big gestures ("New View ) to evocatively picturesque images ("Scenes ) to sinuous, sexy bluesiness ("Get Sassy ). Opposites abound, as on "Jigsaw, a piece of sophisticated funk, while the ballad "Long Lost plays on the heartstrings. His arrangements bring out the best of the members of his group, who are inspired by their musical surroundings and alternately play as one, but then let loose individually when given the chance.
Extremely uplifting, enlightening, and just plain gorgeous, Scenes From An Exit Row reveals so many details upon repeated listens as it keeps returning to the CD player. With so much going for it, this excellent release will be on my short list for the best of 2005.
Track Listing: New View; Scenes From An Exit Row; Reunion; Get Sassy; Jigsaw; Long Lost; Filin; Kayak.
Personnel: Alan Ferber: trombone, composer, arranger; David Smith: trumpet; Will Vinson: alto and
soprano saxophone; John Ellis: tenor saxophone; Douglas Yates: bass clarinet; Bruce
Saunders: guitar; Bryn Roberts: piano; Alexis Cuadrado: bass; Mark Ferber: drums; Akiko
Pavolka: voice (2 & 8).