You have to admire the ambition of saxophonist Llibert Fortuny. His third recording as leader sees him adding thirteen musicians to his electric quintet to create a big band which utilizes sound effects. This line-up recorded XXL
at the end of 2005 in the National Theatre, Barcelona, as part of the city's annual jazz festival.
The music on XXL covers a lot of ground, from heavy funk to ballads, and from abstract pieces with changing time signatures to moody, minimalist numbers. Big on brassy riffs, surges of electric bass and guitar, and a sonic blanket of sound effects, XXL is also surprisingly short on solos.
With such an array of sounds at Fortuny's disposal the temptation to experiment was obviously great. Several songs from Revolts (Nuevos Medios, 2005) get a work-over here. On "Third Generation Fortuny leads the band into free-form jazz/funk territory, sandwiched between a rather simple brass riff, and it sounds like two songs welded together, or perhaps two bands welded together.
On the otherwise impressive "To Steve Coleman, which reveals Fortuny's admirable arranging skills, the band indulges in a few bars of old-time swing which come across as a rather pointless pastiche. The title of the other song from Revolts is "Conflicte Bipolar, and in a musical sense Fortuny appears to be struggling at times to make sense of the wealth of ideas bouncing around his head. The opening track "Mal Dous, for example, begins with a Maceo Parker-ish guitar funk riff. It then goes every which way, big brass riffs alternating with melodic passages which owe a lot to Frank Zappa's Hot Rats (Zappa Records, 1969), but it never quite finds a groove for very long.
Elsewhere Fortuny nails it. By contrast to the in-your-face-ness of much of the rest of the album, "Els Pistolers de Sant Celoni is a tender ballad which begins with a lone alto sax singing plaintively. The song grows with some beautiful ensemble playing and the ringing cry of a pedal steel guitar. The arrival of a Mexican trumpet solo lifts and sweeps the band along, pointing it in 1960s Ennio Morricone direction. Several times Fortuny builds up and strips down the layers of music in masterly fashion. It is perhaps the most powerful track on the album and one which shouts the least.
Other standout tracks include "Auxille, a moody, minimalist piece with a slow hypnotic pulse, and "Intro, a melancholic number which begins with a sax playing initially alone over a repeating trombone riff. Subsequently the sax's voice is enriched by lovely brass accompaniment. Both these tracks prove that less is often more.
Llibert Fortuny's debut as a big-band leader is a mixed bag. At times, his regular quintet sounds like an uncalled-for appendage to the role of the big band, or perhaps it is the other way round. However, when it all comes together, there are enough signs to suggest that Llibert Fortuny is a name we will hear a lot more of in the future.
Personnel: Llibert Fortuny: alto sax, effects; David Soler: guitars, pedal steel guitar, sampler, dobro; David Gonzalez: electric bass; Dani Dominguez: drums; Quim Puigtio: sound effects; Jaume Badrenas: baritone sax; Jon Robles: tenor sax; Marti Serra: tenor sax; Guim G. Balasch: alto sax; Carlos Martin: trombone; Vicent Perez: trombone; Dani Perpinan: trombone; Toni Belenguer: tronmbone; David Pastor: trumpet; Josep Gomariz: trumpet; Chris Kase: trumpet; Mireia Farres: trumpet; Aurelio Santos: beat vox.