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Travis Sullivan's Björkestra: I Go Humble

Dan Bilawsky By

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Björk isn't a member of the jazz community, but the jazz community has had no problem embracing her. Musicians as different as vocalist Kate McGarry and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts have explored the eclectic Icelandic singer's work and put their own stamp on her intoxicating music, but they each left her catalog after a single-song visit. Saxophonist/Arranger Travis Sullivan is on the other end of the spectrum. He set up shop in her world in 2004 and never truly left.

Sullivan's cleverly named Björkestra puts a big band spin on its namesake's music, performing smartly written charts that reflect the intentions of Björk's originals while also speaking to the creative spirit of jazz. The arrangements are loyal to a point, but things are opened up a bit, allowing individual personalities in the band to make their mark; and what a band it is! When this group first came together, its members were virtual unknowns, but things have changed. Front woman Becca Stevens, for example, has quickly become one of the most admired vocalists on the scene, and she's not the only notable name on the roster; trombonist Ryan Keberle, baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian, pianist Art Hirahara, and a whole bunch of other rising star heavy hitters are in the Björkestra's line-up.

I Go Humble, recorded live at New York's Jazz Standard in 2009, is the follow-up to the band's debut—the studio-made Enjoy! (Koch, 2008). That initial offering featured ten reworked Björk pieces, but only three of those numbers—"Hyperballad," "Army Of Me," and "Hunter"—appear here; the live version of each one sounds great, but since they've appeared in similar fashion before, the other five numbers are the real finds. "Venus As A Boy" rides gleefully over a swinging rhythm section, with detours into Afro-Cuban territory, and "I Go Humble" lives in a funky space. Saxophonist Sean Nowell's arrangement of "Isobel" transforms the piece into slowly unfolding mystery music that builds behind cross streaming saxophones, eventually finding release with the arrival of Hirahara's solo. "Unravel," with its subtle laptop effects and hypnotic vocals, completely captures the Björk ethos, and the beautiful-to-bold "Joga" brings the album to an end.

Sullivan has invested much of his time, effort and soul into his arrangements of Björk's music and it shows. I Go Humble should be a source of great pride for its creator.

Track Listing: Hyperballad; Venus As A Boy; Hunter; I Go Humble; Isobel; Army Of Me; Unravel; Joga.

Personnel: Travis Sullivan: alto saxophone; Becca Stevens: vocals; Ian Cook: laptop programming; Sean Nowell: tenor saxophone; Lauren Sevian: baritone saxophone; Ryan Keberle: trombone; Alan Ferber: trombone; Kevin Bryar: trumpet; Eli Asher: trumpet; Kelly Pratt: trumpet; Art Hirahara: piano; Yoshi Waki: bass; Joe Abbatantuono: drums.

Title: I Go Humble | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Zoho Music


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