I must confess to some degree of apprehension when asked to review a “big band with turntables” whose “loops and synths” were “programmed by Ben Davis.” To paraphrase Shakespeare, such an enterprise doth not usually augur well. And indeed, there are moments on drummer Tim Davies’ album, Epic, especially on “Iron Chef Big Band” or “Chocolate Requiem,” when the Bard seems utterly prescient. Happily, there are many others on which the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” miss their mark by a wide margin. In other words, this is a rather mixed bag with accessible straight-ahead jazz rubbing shoulders with the avant-garde, often within a few quarter-notes of each other, before the straight-ahead ultimately carries the day.
Two attributes can be noted with assurance Davies is an accomplished writer / arranger, and he doesn’t hesitate when it comes to taking chances or rocking the boat. Even though he may tip it a bit too far to suit some tastes on “Iron Chef” or “Requiem,” the waters are far more placid and agreeable elsewhere, starting with the spellbinding blues, “Rubberneck,” which hustles merrily along behind shapely solos by organist Alan Steinberger, baritone Jennifer Hall, trumpeter Larry Williams and bassist Bart Samolis. The breezy “UnrepliKATIEble,” with Steinberger featured on piano and Kye Palmer on flugel, was written for Davies’ wife, Katie.
“Requiem,” whose unsettling sonic intrusions and out-of-control climax are somewhat offset by its charming melody and a well-ordered solo by flugel Jon Papenbrook, is followed by “JJJ Blues,” a medium-up charmer whose dynamic passages for brass and reeds underscore eloquent statements by guitarist Mark Cally and soprano Mike Nelson. Alto Karolyn Kafer weaves her magic on “I’ll Close My Eyes and See,” whose funky shuffle-beat carries the tune close to “smooth jazz” terrain, after which trombonist Jacques Voyemant and tenor Lee Secard burn rubber on the fiery “Tissues Aren’t for Cats” and Secard shines again on the plaintive “Elegy for My Unborn House,” whose hushed serenity is perfect complement to the album’s “Epic” finale, a sizzling Latin show-stopper that stretches Davies and percussionist MB Gordy and accommodates crackling solos by Papenbrook, Voyemant and alto Mike Acosta.
If one sidesteps certain parts of “Iron Chef” and “Chocolate Requiem,” what remains is about an hour or so of well-crafted and quite pleasurable big-band Jazz, and that’s more than enough to earn an endorsement. Suitable for listeners of almost every persuasion (but those whose nature is more staid than adventurous may be better served by starting with Track 2).
Track Listing: Iron Chef Big Band; Rubberneck; UnrepliKATIEble; Chocolate Requiem; JJJ Blues;
Personnel: Tim Davies, drums, turntables; Mike Acosta, alto sax; Karolyn Kafer, alto sax, flute;
Mike Nelson, tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Lee Secard, tenor sax; Jennifer Ball (1,
4-6, 9), baritone sax, bass clarinet; Terry Landry (2, 3, 7, 8), baritone sax; Jon
Papenbrook, Larry Williams, Bobby Burns (2, 3, 7, 8), Rich Hoffman, Kye Palmer,
Chris Walden (1, 4-6, 9), trumpet, flugelhorn; Jacques Voyemant, Kerry Loeschen,
Greg Solomon, trombone; Steve Ferguson, bass trombone, contrabass trombone;
Mark Cally, guitars; Alan Steinberger, piano, organ; Bart Samolis, bass; MB Gordy,