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Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra: I Go Humble

Jack Bowers By

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Until this new CD crossed the threshold, the name Bjork was no more than that within these precincts. As it turns out, Bjork is a she, an Icelandic singer / songwriter whose given name is Bjork Gudmundsdottir. Apparently, saxophonist / arranger Travis Sullivan is an avowed enthusiast, as he has not only named his big band in Bjork's honor but has recorded at least two albums devoted to her music, which the twelve-piece ensemble has been playing since 2004. If nothing else, Sullivan and the Bjorkestra affirm on I Go Humble, recorded live at the Jazz Standard in New York City, that Bjork does indeed write fairly interesting melodies, most of which nestle quite easily into the jazz idiom, thanks in large measure to Sullivan's solicitous charts (and one each by trumpeter Kelly Pratt and tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell).

What the album does not have, of course, is Bjork herself. Becca Stevens sits in for the namesake, and as all the songs are new to these ears, it's impossible to say how she measures up to her exemplar. Stevens sings on every track save "Isobel," Nowell's low-key arrangement for jazz quintet. As for the lyrics, which Sullivan lauds as "an expression of an ever-expanding and evolving process," perhaps they are more readily understood and appreciated by Icelanders. They certainly left this listener cold as ice, not to mention bewildered. Cole Porter or Irving Berlin she ain't. On the other hand, the words may make perfect sense to those of Bjork's (younger) generation who are pretty much unaware of what they have missed.

On "Hunter" and "Unravel," Sullivan uses Brian Cooke 's "laptop programming," whatever that is, to create an ethereal soundscape that may or may not be to pleasing, depending on one's predilection for or aversion to such ancillary trappings. Art Hirahara, a splendid pianist (as he shows on "I Go Humble"), further embellishes the supernal mood on "Hunter" by employing a synthesizer, the pivotal theme superseding Yoshi Waki's introductory bass solo. Sullivan's alto sax is used to good effect on "Hyperballad," somewhat less so (after an animated solo by Nowell) on the martial "Army of Me." As noted, Bjork's music is for the most part agreeable, if less than memorable, and the Bjorkestra plays it well. The question is, what to make of it? That is up to listeners to decide. Some may find it uplifting, others tedious. That's what make the world go 'round.

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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