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Derek Brown and The Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra: All Figured Out

Geno Thackara BY

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Derek Brown and The Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra: All Figured Out
Whatever you imagine when you think of big bands, it's nothing quite like this. While Derek Brown can ably channel the snappy spirit of golden-age jazz—and certainly does here, with happy hard-swinging results—his spirit in composing and bandleading could not be more thoroughly modern. The same can be said of his approach to his instrument, as shown by the breathy percussive "beatbox sax" which has become a social-media-famous trademark. Brown's catchy hooks and grooves here sound like those of an inventive jam band, albeit an especially horn- packed jam band miles away from what you would hear on the usual summer-festival circuit. All Figured Out throws one big party with space for all those things and more.

Celebration is the central theme here, partly due to a small homecoming, as Brown assembled this epic session at his alma mater of Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Not happy just to chart arrangements for the 18-piece Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra, which would have been an impressive enough job on its own, he still found room to include three of the school's own music groups along the way—string quartet, horn- heavy jazz octet and Brazilian drum ensemble. Still, while there's no shortage of big brassy swells and quiet-sweeping strings, these arrangements put just as much importance on solos and interplay. "Human Error" eases in with some of Brown's frisky beatboxing, then builds a sly semi-noir motif which briefly goes polka before some electric guitar wails take off flying.

With "Vantage Point" it's a sunny springtime groove which smoothly turns into gospel-tinged funk with a dash of spy theme at the close. If you've ever wondered what Vince Guaraldi would have sounded like at the helm of a big brass band, "Again" provides the brightest uplifting answer you could have asked for. On top of that, there is still room for an earnest yet jaunty vocal number in the middle and a thoughtful closer which goes from smooth soul to carnival dance and lush finale. Cramming so much into one hour usually means either brilliance or chaos, and somehow All Figured Out manages never to feel even vaguely in danger of chaos. Brown deserves some mighty good credit for his arrangements here. It's faintly miraculous how much breathing space he makes in a recording with 38 players, even when the most exuberant spots figuratively blow the roof off. This joyous party is packed without actually getting crowded, and it defies anyone not to have a blast for the full hour.

Track Listing

Prelude; Human Error; Again; A Simple Gesture; Vantage Point; All Figured Out; The Pursuit; Hoping for the Best; The Good Fight.

Personnel

Derek Brown: saxophone, tenor; The Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra: band/orchestra; The Hope College Jazz Arts Collective: band/orchestra; Hope College Brazilian Drumming Ensemble: band/orchestra; Anna Janowski: violin; Lian Robinson: violin; Abigail Finnegan: viola; Elizabeth Bachwich: cello.

Additional Instrumentation

Anna Janowski, Lian Robinson, Abigail Finnegan, Elizabeth Bachwich (1, 7); The Hope College Jazz Arts Collective (9); Brazilian Drumming Ensemble (9).

Album information

Title: All Figured Out | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Self Produced

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