Mike Holober is a celebrated composer and arranger who has worked for ensembles like the Westchester Jazz Orchestra in New York and the WDR and HR Big Bands in Germany. He is also the leader and founder of the Gotham Jazz Orchestra which here makes its first appearance on record in ten years. Holober makes this return a fruitful one, coming up with a 2CD set featuring two long suites, both with themes involving American landscapes.
The first suite is "Flow," which evokes the path of the Hudson River as it travels from the Adirondack Mountains to Manhattan. The suite starts, in "Tear Of The Clouds," with Billy Drewes' flute, Jay Azzolina's guitar and Holober's piano sounding like tinkling raindrops, leading into a surging theme that is passed through various sections of the orchestra at shifting volumes until Jason Rigby's tenor sax takes control with a moody solo backed by the twisting fabric of guitar and piano. Marvin Stamm is featured on pearly trumpet on "Opalescence" as the orchestra plays spacious music with the pastoral beauty of Aaron Copland. Wary waves of brass and flutes sigh over slower, more graceful variations on the main theme. After a brief penny whistle break by Ben Kono that evokes bird cries, Drewes' alto leads the entire ensemble into the furious big band bashing of "Harlem." Azzolina, bassist John Hébert and drummer Jared Schonig lay down a hard-charging rhythm for Drewes and trumpeter Scott Wendholt to caper over while Holober's nagging piano and Azzolina's rippling guitar push the orchestra forward into pounding harmonized riffs with a polished sheen.
Holober wrote "Hiding Out" in a cabin in Wyoming that overlooked the Big Horn mountains. That setting leads to this suite having a subued and awestruck feel, starting with Stamm and Kono leading quiet massed reeds through a solemn theme. On "Compelled" Holober's gentle piano repetitions set the backdrop for flowing waves of flutes and brass until guitarist Steve Cardenas comes in with a thoughtful, Spanish-tinged solo that merges nicely with the plush brass figures. A delicate miniature for flutes and piano, and a floridly romantic piano solo follow. Then Holober's piano leads into the whirling surge of "It Was Just The Wind," with horns moving in and out to a galloping beat. Jon Gordon on alto and Adam Kolker on tenor take soaring, dizzying solos as the orchestra continues its relentless movement at a slower tempo. Finally Holober steps out with simmering electric piano against a fast samba rhythm as the horns comment in the margins.
This set goes beyond just the two suites. "Jumble" is a restless piece with jazz-rock energy where the horns snap together in beautifully constructed harmonies and solos come from Gordon's frisky alto, Holober's jumping electric piano and Jesse Lewis' buzzing electric guitar. At the end of it all comes a mellow arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Caminhos Cruzados" featuring Stamm on romantic flugelhorn.
Mike Holober's writing is in the expansive and ambitious lineage of Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider: music of varying moods that merges the thrust of jazz with atmospheric colors closer to the classical world. It can teem with energy or settle into a state of quiet, contemplative beauty. This set shows a wide range of the composer's abilities and also provides fine platforms for soloists like Marvin Stamm and Billy Drewes. Holober creates excellent, modern orchestral jazz.
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
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).
Rhythm Abstraction: Azure is the first volume of new compositions created as a follow up to 2018’s
release Rhythm Kaleidoscope. As with that release, Brock Avery improvised drum and percussion
solos. Frank Macchia then composed music for woodwinds and orchestra to Brock’s creations. Azure
is the first of three extended play albums of 6-7 compositions which will be released starting in
January and followed up in April and July. In Azure we have a created a group of pieces that continue
our quest for honoring the art of improvisation with a “stream-of-consciousness” sense of
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