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Hazel Leach has had quite a musical career. After college, where she studied classical flute as well as jazz / pop saxophone, the Englishwoman spent a number of years as a freelance musician / arranger before moving to Holland in 1979. Six years later she was named lecturer in music at the Arnheim Conservatoire, and in 1992 she co-founded the United Women's Orchestra with friend and colleague Christina Fuchs. The UWO lasted until 2009, after which Leach (who meanwhile had spent time in the U.S. as curator of the Omni International Music Residency, guest lecturer at Harvard and Columbia universities, and artist-in-residence at the Berklee School of Music) relocated to Germany where in 2011 she formed the Composers' Orchestra Berlin. The suitably named Free Range Music is one of the early fruits of that endeavor.
About the COB, Leach writes, "The music written for the band would have no exclusion zones. The mandate would be to combine elements from all possible styles to create music that is truly 'free range,' and to have that music performed by imaginative and creative players." Mission accomplished. The music herein, much of which would be better described by other musicians, is both inclusive and unfetterednot to mention quite demanding, for players and listeners alike. It starts with one of Leach's two compositions, "Spinoff," a relatively sedate and melodic theme that brings to the fore Martin Klenk's deep-voiced cello and Meike Goosmann's mellow soprano sax. As everything here is thematic, based on events, impressions or emotions, Leach's second piece, "Postcard No. 1," she writes, is the first in a series "exploring the apparently inexhaustible rhythmic possibilities of the waltz." Well, "Postcard" may be in ¾ time (that's presumably a given) but it's a sure bet it wouldn't be miscounted for something a member of the Strauss family may have written, even though it does have an explicit waltz-like ambiance.
The other themes, each of which gives free rein to the composer's imagination, range from Oleg Hollmann's assertive "Synthadventures of a Spacehero" to Christian Korthals' graphic "Berlin," the second movement of a suite for big band. In between are Susanne Paul's seductive "Mata Hari," Alexander Tzschentke's audacious "Kleiner Stau," Strakhof's prismatic "Belphegor," Horst Nonnemacher's reverential "Oracao," Ruth Schepers' bellicose "Totales Tanzverbot" and Fee Stracke's freewheeling "Zamboni." While there are solos, this is by and large a composer's enterprise, with the ensemble showcased much of the way. As for the music, it is highly sophisticated, sometimes enigmatic and not designed for unschooled ears. It does, however, in Leach's words, "[display] the wonderfully broad and inspiring diversity of uniquely personal styles, with influences ranging from classical to jazz and from folk to free . . . truly Free Range music."
Track Listing: Spinoff; Synthadventures of a Spacehero; Mata Hari; Kleiner Stau; Belphegor; Oracao; Postcard No. 1; Totales Tanzverbot; Zamboni; Berlin.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.