John Yao and His 17-Piece Instrument: Flip-Flop

Jack Bowers By

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Music aside, you have to love the name of this band: John Yao and His 17-Piece Instrument. Now there's confidence with a capital C! Yao, a New York City-based trombonist who arrived there from his native Chicago more than a decade ago, has more recently turned his hand to composing and arranging. Yao writes with the group dynamic in mind, one result of which is Flip-Flop, an adventurous big-band debut on which Yao's all-star "Instrument" performs his elaborate charts with panache and precision.

While invariably contemporary (in the best sense of the word), Yao's compositions cleave for the most part to the orthodox; that is to say, persuasive melody, harmony and rhythm as exemplified by big bands from their inception, building blocks employed by Yao to fashion music that is both forward-looking and canonical. At times burnished and melodious, at others loose and strident, it forms a colorful tapestry that is never less than alluring. Interwoven among Yao's eight named pieces are cascading "Soundscapes," numbered 1 and 2, that serve as synoptic respites between the longer and more expansive numbers.

Frankly, not everything swings in a time-honored way. On the other hand, Flip-Flop does have its heated moments, especially on "New Guy," "Slow . . . Children at Play," "Out of Socket" and the angular title song. Soloists are securely on target, with effective statements by Yao; trumpeters Andy Gravish, David Smith and Jason Wiseman; altos John O'Gallagher (soprano on "Reflection") and Alejandro Aviles, tenors Rich Perry and Jon Irabagon, baritone Frank Basile, trombonists Luis Bonilla and Kajiwara Tokunori, and the members of the ensemble's tasteful rhythm section: pianist Jesse Stacken, bassist Robert Sabin and drummer Vince Cherico.

Those who appreciate modern big bands such as those epitomized by Maria Schneider or the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra should derive ample pleasure from Flip-Flop, an admirable maiden voyage on which John Yao shows considerable promise as a composer / arranger whose eyes and ears are unalterably focused on the future of big-band jazz.

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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