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Mike Holober and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra: Hiding Out

Dan Bilawsky By

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If musical polymath Mike Holober is hiding out, he's doing it in plain sight. Constantly in demand, his work as a pianist, conductor, arranger and composer has drawn plenty of attention. In the past 15 years alone he has served as the Artistic Director and Conductor of the Westchester Jazz Orchestra (from 2007-2013), the Associate Guest Conductor of the hr-Bigband (from 2011-2015), and the Associate Director of the BMI Jazz Composer's Workshop (from 2007-2015). In that same stretch of time, his writing and conducting talents have shaped many performances of the WDR Big Band, he has worked tirelessly as a full professor at the City College of New York, received numerous fellowships and awards— Holober is a five-time MacDowell Fellow and a Ucross Foundation Fellow—and delivered some boundary-stretching albums with his Gotham Jazz Orchestra and Balancing Act octet. In short, the man is busy. While some artists get trampled under foot by the hustle and bustle, Holober seems to thrive on it, as evidenced by this double album.

Presenting a series of commissioned works—two suites bookended by two stand-alone pieces—Holober is in his element. Channeling nature's bounty into varied dimensions and directions, he manages to meld two of his loves—the great outdoors and sound itself—into enthralling functions and forms. Take the opener, "Jumble," for example; this 2008 commission for the U.S. Army Jazz Nights captures the oddly sympathetic ideals of retreat and grandeur. Named for a secluded lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the piece uses an airy resonance to sync up with solitude. But the majesty of the mountains overcomes that isolation, moving to the fore with a display of massive peaks, Brazilian maracatu rhythms and some searing solo work. It is (nearly) 14 minutes of pure magic.

Flow, the first of the two suites, follows that opener and fills out the remainder of the first disc. A polymorphous pursuit commissioned by the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, funded by the NY State Council of the Arts and penned during one of Holober's stays at the MacDowell Colony, it is a multi-movement composition of tremendous breadth and complexity. The tantalizing "Tears Of The Clouds," with close-voiced harmonies, reed whirls, muted brass, tip-toed gestures, massed fronts and a tour de force solo stand from tenorist Jason Rigby, seems to have it all. "Opalescence," living up to its name, presents a multi-hued beauty that complements what precedes it while swelling and encircling the ears. Marvin Stamm's warm and inviting flugelhorn proves to be the perfect representation of and focal point for the concept and content at hand. Then, following a searching "Interlude" highlighting Ben Kono's mystical penny whistle, Billy Drewes' alto leads the way back to "Harlem" where a rhythm section of Holober, guitarist Jay Azzolina, bassist John Hébert and drummer Jared Schonig shines and drives. That tight quartet acts as the energy core for the entire ensemble, powering the group in various gears.

The five-movement title suite, commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and funded by the Pew Foundation, accounts for the overwhelming majority of the album's second disc. Taking inspirational cues from the earthly wonders of Wyoming, Holober paints with detailed strokes and supreme sensitivity. Kono's piccolo and Stamm's trumpet float across a "Prelude" that speaks of uncertain tidings, ushering in a work that is as mysterious as it is breathtaking. A lightly bounding gait comes to define the deepest layers of "Compelled." That sense of motion supports guitarist Steve Cardenas' soloing before Holober has his way with the off-beat eight-note pattern during a solo that winds down before coming about in somewhat reserved fashion. Two miniatures—the expertly-textured "Four Haiku" and piano-focused "Interlude"—serve as palate cleansers in a way, leading to the heady "It Was Just The Wind." The final movement of the suite, and the longest track on the album at a full-figured 18-plus minutes, it carries a fair amount of information in its lifespan. But it never overstays its welcome. With well-placed respites, sweeping backgrounds, smart evolutionary maneuvering, and wide-eyed solos from the likes of alto saxophonist Jon Gordon, tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker and a flitting Holober on Fender Rhodes, the music never tires.

The album comes to a close with a tender revision of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Caminhos Cruzados," given both in full and a slightly-trimmed radio edit. Another piece originally penned for the Westchester Jazz Orchestra and featuring Stamm's lyrical horn, it retains the breezy essence of its model while drawing from a wider range of colors. As with Holober's other albums and works for large ensembles, the material on Hiding Out is both serious and engrossing. Who says jazz can't fire the intellect and the imagination?

Track Listing: CD 1: Jumble; Flow: Movement 1: Tear of the Clouds; Movement 2: Opalescence; Movement 3: Interlude; Movement 4: Harlem. CD 2: Hiding Out: Movement 1: Prelude; Movement 2: Compelled; Movement 3: Four Haiku; Movement 4: Interlude; Movement 5: It Was Just the Wind; Caminhos Cruzados; Caminhos Cruzados (Radio Edit).

Personnel: Mike Holober: conductor, piano, Fender Rhodes; Billy Drewes: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute (Disc 1: 2-5); Jon Gordon: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone (Disc 1: 1; Disc 2: 1-5); Dave Pietro: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, piccolo (Disc 1: 1; Disc 2: 1-7); Ben Kono: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, clarinet, piccolo, penny whistle (Disc 1: 2-5; Disc 2: 6,7); Adam Kolker: tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, clarinet; Jason Rigby: tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet (Disc 1: 2-5); Charles Pillow: tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet, alto flute (Disc 1: 1; Disc 2: 1-5); Steve Kenyon - baritone saxophone, bass clarinet (Disc 1: 1; Disc 2: 1-5); Carl Maraghi - baritone saxophone, bass clarinet (Disc 1: 2-5; Disc 2: 6,7); Tony Kadleck: trumpet, flugelhorn; Liesl Whitaker: trumpet flugelhorn; Scott Wendholt: trumpet, flugelhorn; James de LaGarza: trumpet, flugelhorn (Disc 1: 1-3, 5); Marvin Stamm: trumpet, flugelhorn (Disc 1:3; Disc 2: 1-7); Tim Albright: trombone; Mark Patterson: trombone (Disc 1:1-5; Disc 2: 6, 7); Alan Ferber: trombone (Disc 1:1-5; Disc 2: 6, 7); Bruce Eidem: trombone (Disc 2: 1-5); Pete McGuinness: trombone (Disc 1: 2-5); Nathan Durham: trombone; Steve Cardenas: guitar (Disc 2: 1-5); Jesse Lewis: guitar (Disc 1:1; Disc 2: 6, 7); Jay Azzolina: guitar (Disc 1: 2-5); John Hebert: bass; Mark Ferber: drums (Disc 2: 1-7); Jared Schonig: drums (Disc 1: 1-5); Rogerio Boccato: drums (Disc 1:1; Disc 2: 1-7).

Title: Hiding Out | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Zoho Music

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