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Big Bands: Wayne Horvitz, Satoko Fujii, Steve Lehman, Kenny Werner & Andrew D'Angelo

Martin Longley By

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The New York Composers Orchestra

University Of The Streets

October 23, 2010

Even for local residents, an appearance by the New York Composers Orchestra has become a rarity. Its guiding forces, the pianists Wayne Horvitz and Robin Holcomb, have long been living in Seattle (they moved in 1989), so get-togethers have been very scarce over the last two decades. Although he visits NYC regularly, Horvitz has lately taken to appearing with his Sweeter Than The Day quartet (itself formed as long ago as 1999). Now, it's the NYCO's 25th anniversary, and Horvitz has also been asked to curate at the University Of The Streets in the East Village. This too marks something of a revival. Indigenous dwellers speak of this informal theatre-space as an old haunt for the music, and now such performances are returning in an emphatic manner. Horvitz was booking October and already, the alto saxophonist Matana Roberts has programmed an equally impressive run for November 2010. The UOTS will act as a strong complement to The Stone, just a few blocks downtown. Their set-times are the same, as is their $10 door-admission. Even the UOTS's artists are similar types to those who inhabit John Zorn's intimate corner-space.

The players not surprisingly took up a large area of the floor, so there was a greater audience capacity to the orchestra's left and right sides. It turned out to be a wise decision to sit in the narrow strip of chairs directly in front of the conductor's position. Indeed, just before take-off, Horvitz issued a warning that he might inadvertently strike those sitting directly behind him.

The line-up featured an impressive gathering of Horvitz cronies, many of them old hands from the early days: Marty Ehrlich, Briggan Krauss, Doug Wieselman, Andy Laster (reeds), Ron Horton (trumpet), Lindsey Horner (bass) and Bobby Previte (drums) amongst them. Pianists and composers Horvitz and Holcomb divided the set's pieces up more or less equally, with an added arrangement of the old "Fever" song, mostly associated with Peggy Lee. There was also Ehrlich's "M.Variations." During its history, the NYCO has performed works by a wider range of writers, but on this evening they stuck closer to home.

Holcomb's "Nightbirds: Open 24 Hours" refers to West Coast nature, as well as a specific East Village bar. Her pieces tend to have more of an evocative classical poise, whereas husband Horvitz prefers to deliver a complex manifestation of blues'n'swing. At least on this particular evening. Horvitz would periodically wander over to the piano, breaking out in a spell of solo spillage, then pace determinedly back to the frontal position, directing with keen control. The essence of the NYCO performance is an uncompromising co-existence of art music trappings with old school swing and blues energy, particularly when Horvitz is at the helm. Even though the ensemble playing was controlled and precise, there was an air of recklessness in the delivery, within the parameters set by the score. The absolute pinnacle-stretch was a climactic duo/duel between Ehrlich and Wieselman, honking and jousting, half-1936, half-1969. It must be stated in advance that due to the overload of both rousing passion and sharp intellectual vision of the NYCO, the subsequent large combos covered in this piece were destined to suffer by comparison.

The Satoko Fujii Orchestra

Roulette

October 24, 2010

The saxophonists Andy Laster and Briggan Krauss were also found in the ranks of Satoko Fujii's orchestra on the following night. The Japanese pianist and composer's East Coast version of her expando assemblage also featured many key NYC players who didn't happen to be members of the NYCO. So, there were trumpeters Herb Robertson, Frank London, Dave Ballou and Fujii's husband Natsuki Tamura, reedsmen Oscar Noriega, Ellery Eskelin and Chris Speed, Curtis Hasselbring notable amongst the three trombonists and Stomu Takeishi on electric bass. Once again, Fujii wasn't able to play much piano, as the demands of her conducting meant that she'd often break off before a solo's natural conclusion, meeting the cue for a new wave of horn section chopping. She's an incredibly diverse leader, with her several small bands possessing a radical difference in style and palette.

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