The malicious coronavirus pandemic that brought most of the world to its knees in 2020 has spawned the use of several reanimated words including "virtual," whose meaning is "sort of here but not really," as in virtual video chats, conference calls, exhibits, films and even musical performances. "Virtual" has spread its tentacles into almost every walk of life including jazz, via YouTube and other creative channels. And now, it seems, to big bands as well. Cartoon Bebop
, the third album by Dan Bonsanti
's Florida-based The 14 Jazz Orchestra, was literally spliced together using musicians who were plugged in to the central recording booth from at-home studios in Arizona, California, Maine, New Jersey, Tennessee, Wisconsin and various Florida locales.
So how does this "virtual" big band perform? In a word, seamlessly. The opinion here is that if a listener hadn't been forewarned, there is no way he or she could ascertain that the ensemble wasn't performing as a single unit in one studio. Even the most arduous passages, such as those on Chick Corea
's mercurial "Got a Match?" pose no problem for Bonsanti's mega-self-distancing maestros. Given the unavoidable disparities in time zones and geography, rehearsals must have been loads of fun. In any case, Cartoon Bebop
could serve as a guidepost for other large bands who may have been discussing the pros and cons of embarking on such a daunting enterprise. The message is, it can be done, and done well.
It does help, however, to have a seasoned trail boss like Bonsanti rustling the herd. Besides rounding up the musicians and dealing with what must have been its labyrinthine logistics, he wrote the album's opening and closing themes and arranged or co-arranged every one of its eleven numbers. His labors bear fruit immediately on the playful opener, "Cartoon Bebop," wherein Peter Erskine
keeps time (impeccably, as always) from Los Angeles while Jason Carder
"phones in" his trumpet solo from Arizona, Ed Maina
his alto solo from Tennessee. Meanwhile, the ensemble decisively nails the Rocky & Bullwinkle
-inspired theme and tenor Ed Calle
weighs in with a zesty solo of his own. Erskine mans the drum kit again on "Wood Dance," Corea's "Duende" and Wayne Shorter
's "Infant Eyes." Carder and Maina solo (with pianist Mike Levine
) on Herbie Hancock
's "Driftin,'" Maina (flute) on "I'm All Smiles" and (piccolo) on "Got a Match?," Calle on Stanley Clarke
's "Dayride," "Duende," "A Day Tripper's Blues Buffet," "Got a Match?" and (on soprano) "Misturada." Pianist Levine is showcased on "Wood Dance," tenor Calle (clearly Bonsanti's go-to guy) on "When I Look in Your Eyes." Others who quicken the ear are pianist Kemuel Roig
and trumpeter Cisco Dimas
("Misturada"), bassist Nicky Orta
and drummer Lee Levin
("Got a Match?"), guitarist Randy Bernsen
("Infant Eyes") and a second Bonsanti, oboist Neal ("Duende"). The orchestra's other "out-of-towners" included trumpeter Brett Murphey
(Wisconsin), trombonist Dana Teboe
(Maine) and tenor Tommy Timko
Aside from his own compositions, Bonsanti writes that the songs on Cartoon Bebop
are among his favorites, chosen after hours of listening to music "across a wide spectrum of styles" for tunes that could "stand up to repeated listening." Corea, Hancock and Shorter are safe choices, and "Got a Match?" is among the highlights. As to the rest, the songs are above par but a touch short of memorable. "Misturada," a new melody in this neighborhood, is certainly a plus, as are "Dayride," "Duende" and "Driftin.'" Bonsanti's superlative charts clearly strengthen the cause, and the way in which the album was assembled must be applauded. Not quite a five-star enterprise but close enough to earn an unreserved endorsement.
Cartoon Bebop; Mistruda; Day Ride; I'm All Smiles; Got A Match; Driftin'; Wood Dance; When I Look In You Eyes;
Duende; Infant Eyes; A Day Tripper's Blues Buffet.
Brett Murphy: trumpet; Major Bailey: trombones; Richard Bravo: percussion; Kemuel Roig: keyboard.