Creative large ensembles are precious commodities. In the modern era, maintaining both features (innovation and size) is a marvel. There are large repertory ensembles playing those "oldies" that are, maybe, goodies, and smaller, more economically efficient bands that have always been the flag bearers for originality. But to witness a large ensemble, big band or arkestra that can add new life to this music is to appreciate the labor and dedication composers, arrangers, musicians and, maybe, accountants need to put in to keep the flame burning.
Add to that list labels. Hat Hut Records and its imprint Hatology has presented large ensembles with an ear to detail. Specifically, sound. Getting the balance of multiple players right is a talent. Here are a few recent re-issues.
Sun Ra ArkestraSunrise In Different DimensionsHat Hut Records
Fans of Sun Ra
aka Herman Sonny Blount (1914-1993) know that if they were asked to name a few essential recordings, they might be able to limit themselves to about 20. Maybe the most recorded large ensemble in the history of jazz, Ra's orchestras and arkestras have yielded hundreds and hundreds of records from studio sessions to live recordings made on the bands' many US and European tours.
Ra is in full flight here. The year 1980, the concert in Willisau, Switzerland as his Arkestra is beginning a tour. The 15 tracks are a satisfying mix of original pieces and traditional music from Thelonious Monk
, Duke Ellington
, Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins
and Jelly Roll Morton
. Ra, playing strictly acoustic piano, delivers the history of jazz, strutting his version of "King Porter Stomp" and Billy Strayhorn's "Take The A Train," played seriously straight. The two out-cat saxophonists Marshall Allen
and John Gilmore
are satisfied to walk the traditional walk here.
The Arkestra reminds listeners that to take flight, as it does on the manic "Lightnin,'" the avant must first be versed in the ritual of jazz. Hearing Ra play piano on a deconstructed "Round Midnight" is a pure delight. At the height of his powers, his playing was an encyclopedic tour of jazz piano.
ICP OrchestraJubilee VariaHat Hut Records
The Instant Composers Pool led by pianist Misha Mengelberg
is sort of a street brawl of a band. This Dutch outfit, established by Mengelberg and drummer Han Bennink
in 1967 has created musical mayhem for decades. This concert from 1997 in Zurich finds the nine players in full flight (or fight?) presenting two suites, "Jubilee Varia" and "Jealousy," plus the pianist's sprawling, Cuban-inspired "Rollo I."
When the Pool plays, you may wonder if somehow you are being allowed a visit into a very funny inside joke. Bennink and Mengelberg open the title suite in duo, the drummer continuously egging on the pianist by prodding him with sticks and drum rolls. Mengelberg ignores him like a pesky fly, the drummer persists and they are off sword fighting like Groucho and Chico Marx.
Next comes the strings of Ernst Reijseger, Tristan Honsinger and Ernst Glerum, followed by the horns of Michael Moore, Ab Baars, Thomas Heberer and Wolter Wierbos mixing and mashing the suite. You get the sense these guys are alternately making it up on the fly and experts at spontaneous composing. But neither is trueMengelberg's direction here is often to create chaos from a composed line. The sound is alternatively manic and simple unadorned beauty. The ICP Orchestra does pandemonium better than any large ensemble working today.
Vienna Art OrchestraA Notion In Perpetual MotionHat Hut Records
Where a band like the ICP Orchestra is all loose and wild, the music of the Vienna Art Orchestra is crisp, concise and structured. That's not to say it isn't innovative and modern. Indeed, this band founded in 1977 under the direction of Mathias Ruegg
has consistently thrilled listeners with the power of a big band. In 1983, it recorded some very intimate music with The Minimalisn Of Erik Satie
(Hatology, 2010) and have taken on Ellington and Charles Mingus
This live date, recorded in May 1985 in Switzerland, finds the band negotiating the intricate charts that walk a line between Ellington and Jaco Pastorius
' Word Of Mouth Orchestra. Opening with a classic big band sound on "Sighs From South-Carinthia," it introduces electric Fender piano and Yamaha DX-7 sounds into the mix. Soon the music segues into Laura Newton's scat call-and-response to the odd electricity with "Voices Without Words." The mastered tumult is never out of control. This tightly held band keeps the throttle and the steering wheel well within its capabilities.
Monk's "Round Midnight" begins with Uli Scherer's piano meditation that seemingly never hints at the melody. Then a finely crafted orchestration of horns is led by a Miles Davis
-sounding trumpet whisper. The chilling piece ends with the full orchestra swirling lush notes into the air.
Tracks and Personnel Sunrise In Different Dimensions
Tracks: Light From A Hidden Sun; Pin-Points Of Spiral Prisms; Silhouettes Of The Shadow World; Cocktails For Two; 'Round Midnight; Lady Bird / Half Nelson; Big John's Special; Yeah Man!; Disguised Gods In Skullduggery Rendez-Vous; Queer Notions; Limehouse Blues; King Porter Stomp; Take The A Train; Lightnin'; A Helio- Hello! And Goodbye Too!.
Personnel: Sun Ra: piano; Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, oboe, flute; John Gilmore: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Noel Scott: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, flute; Danny Thompson: baritone saxophone, flute; Kenneth Williams: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone; Michael Ray: trumpet; Chris Henderson: drums; Eric Walker: drums. Jubilee Varia
Tracks: Jubilee Varia 1; Jubilee Varia 2; Jubilee Varia 3; A Bit Nervous Jealous? Me?; Next Subject; Roll I.
Personnel: Misha Mengelberg: piano; Michael Moore: clarinet, alto saxophone; Ab Baars: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Thomas Heberer: trumpet; Wolter Wierbos: trombone; Ernst Reijseger: cello; Tristan Honsinger: cello; Ernst Glerum: contrabass ; Han Bennink: drums. A Notion In Perpetual Motion
Tracks: Sighs From South-Carinthia; Woodworms In The Roots; Voices Without Words; Life At The Dead Sea; Lady Delay; Romana; A Natural Sound; Round Midnight; French Alphorn; H. M. Blues.
Personnel: Lauren Newton-voice; Hannes Kottek: trumpet, flugelhorn; Karl Fian: trumpet, flugelhorn; Herbert Joos: trumpet, flugelhorn; Wolfgang Puschnig: alto saxphone, soprano piccolo, flute; Harry Sokal: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute; Roman Schwaller: tenor saxophone; Christian Radovan: trombone; John Sass: tuba; Uli Scherer: piano; Heiri Kaenzig: bass; Wolfgang Reisinger: percussion, drums; Joris Dudli: drums, percussion; Mathias Rüegg-leader .