John Yao: Flip-Flop

Karl Ackermann By

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On his 2012 debut, trombonist John Yao navigated multiple complex territories ranging from the experimental to traditional balladry. A regular presence on the New York scene, Yao has worked with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and Arturo O'Farrill's Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. Having absorbed those big band sensibilities, Yao graduates from his inaugural quintet to a seventeen-piece ensemble. Flip-Flop features ten Yao compositions ranging from straight-ahead swing to frenzied group improvisations.

Joining Yao are two top-tier saxophonists in Jon Irabagon—of Mostly Other People Do The Killing—and Rich Perry who has been a central figure in Maria Schneider's Orchestra. Also on hand is trumpeter Andy Gravish whose impressive qualifications includes work with the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Gunther Schuller and Artie Shaw. He and fellow trumpeter David Smith add substantial clout to the more swing oriented pieces. Pianist Jesse Stacken has a cutting-edge background having worked with bassist Eivind Opsvik and cornetist Kirk Knuffke. Stacken frequently provides an effective counter to the proliferation of brass and reeds on Flip-Flop.

Yao's compositional tactics and arranging style, while certainly complex, fall more into the old school, swing-heavy approach of a John Hollenbeck, than the cerebral hybrid slant like that of Darcy James Argue. The title track, for instance, is a push-pull of brass and reeds dominated by the dialog between Perry's tenor and John O'Gallagher's alto. Similarly, "New Guy," and "Slow . . . Children at Play" are fairly well rooted in the big band tradition but with enough improvisation to hold interest. The two shortest tracks on Flip-Flop, "Soundscape No. 1" and ..."No. 2" are the most adventurous and experimental of Yao's compositions.

While there little in the way of ground-breaking music or arranging on Flip-Flop, there are a number of noteworthy pieces. Along with the previously mentioned "Soundscapes...," "Illumination" is just that with its darker tone and less brassy presence. Irabagon's contribution to "Ode to the Last Twinkie" is a standout among the many fine solos from this large ensemble. Yao allows himself plenty of up front time and it's well worth hearing what a world-class trombonist can do on that very difficult but extraordinarily rich instrument.

Track Listing: Flip-Flop; New Guy; Slow…Children at Play; Soundscape No.1; Hellgate; Reflection; Ode to the Last Twinkie; Soundscape No.2; Illumination

Personnel: John Yao: Compositions, Conductor, Trombone; John O’Gallagher: Alto, Soprano Saxophones, Flute; Alejandro Aviles: Alto Sax, Flute; Rich Perry: Tenor Sax; Jon Irabagon: Tenor Sax, Clarinet; Frank Basile: Baritone Sax, Bass Clarinet; John Walsh: Trumpet & Flugel; Jason Wiseman: Trumpet; David Smith: Trumpet; Andy Gravish: trumpet; Luis Bonilla: Trombone; Matt McDonald: Trombone; Kajiwara Tokunori: trombone; Jennifer Wharton: trombone; Jesse Stacken: piano; Robert Sabin: bass; Vince Cherico: drums

Title: Flip-Flop | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: See Tao Recordings

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