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Album Review

Ben Markley Big Band: Ari's Funhouse

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Ben Markley Big Band: Ari's Funhouse
Ari's Funhouse, recorded in July 2021, sprang from a chance encounter at a Texas jazz festival in 2019 between New York-based drummer & composer Ari Hoenig and Denver-based pianist & arranger Ben Markley. After performing with Hoenig in a small group, Markley asked if he might score some of Hoenig's songs for a big band. Hoenig readily agreed, and after a lengthy Covid-induced pause, he and Markley's band finally met face-to-face in Denver to record the album. Two things are readily apparent; Hoenig and Markley are superior artists in their own right, and together they could make a phone book dance—and have fun doing it.

Although not basically known as a big-band drummer, Hoenig has no trouble lighting a roaring fire under Markley's blue-chip ensemble. Meanwhile, as a composer, Hoenig has his own singular voice, and Markley "arranges" every theme so that his point of view is always front and center. Even though scrupulously modern, that voice harkens back to a time when big bands wielded musical sovereignty and swing carried the day. Hoenig also has a funky side, but he and Markley save that for last, on the assertive yet off-beat "Green Spleen."

Elsewhere, Funhouse is exactly that, a first-class big band blowing up a storm with perceptive charts, precise section work, admirable solos and unflagging esprit de corps. Hoenig's drums are persuasive but not overwhelming, while Markley's arrangements bring out the best in every section. Even though most numbers are up-tempo, Hoenig reveals a keen ear for a ballad on "For Tracy." The band comes out swinging on "Birdless" and continues apace with "Lyric," "Lines of Oppression" and "Bert's Playground" before wrapping up the package with "Tracy," the Middle Eastern-inspired tone poem "Arrows and Loops" (including superb solos by Markley, Hoenig and alto saxophonist Wil Swindler) and "Green Spleen."

As noted, the ensemble is unerring, as are the soloists: Markley, Swindler, Hoenig, tenor saxophonists John Gunther and Peter Sommer, trumpeters Dan Jonas and Greg Gisbert, trombonist Paul McKee, guitarist Steve Kovalcheck and bassist Evan Gregor. In sum, Markley's invitation to Hoenig has paid handsome dividends, and Ari's Funhouse, ship-shape and well-ordered, is a wonderful place to spend a pleasurable hour or more.

Track Listing

Birdless; Lyric; Lines of Oppression; Bert's Playground; For Tracy; Arrows and Loops; Green Spleen

Personnel

Ben Markley: piano; Ari Hoenig: drums; Peter Olstad: trumpet; Greg Gisbert: trumpet; Dan Jonas: trumpet; Alan Hood: trumpet; Adam Bartczak: trombone; Paul McKee: trombone; Rob Borger: trombone; Jon Gauer: trombone; Wil Swindler: woodwinds; Scott Turpen: saxophone, alto; Peter Sommer: saxophone, tenor; John Gunther: saxophone, tenor; Sam Williams: saxophone, baritone; Steve Kovalcheck: guitar; Evan Gregor: bass.

Album information

Title: Ari's Funhouse | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: OA2 Records

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