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Because of their sheer physical bulk and lethal defensive firepower, big bands have remained fundamentally immune to the jazz revolutions of the last sixty years. Bop, hard bop, cool, free, fusion, funked up, rocked out, astral, groove, and ecstatic... all the major reinventions have been created by smaller lineups. (Miles Davis's Birth Of The Cool band is the sole vanguard outfit to have been bigger than a sextet, and itself was only a nine-piece.)
So when radicals like Sun Ra, Matthias Ruegg (leader of the Vienna Art Orchestra), or the eclectic world/jazz drummer John Hollenbeck come along, rejecting mainstream codification and reimagining everything, it's time to put out more flags.
Hollenbeck delivered his big band manifesto with last year's A Blessing, and Joys & Desires follows in much the same direction. At its best it's a visceral, fiercely elemental concoction. Rhythmic expression is at the core; harmonic invention is relatively unimportant; and the role of the bravura soloist is much reduced. It's high torque ensemble music, often mesmerising in effect, precisely and arrestingly detailed, lightly dipped in electronica, and with many novel textures.
"Abstinence" and "Jazz Envy" work particularly well, their extended, trance-like tones (a Hollenbeck signature motif, often stated in unison by massed horns and at times echoing Tibetan temple chanting) driven upward by intense, mounting rhythm from below.
In all this bold music, Hollenbeck is true to the spirit of his muse, the visionary late-eighteenth century poet and painter William Blake. The album title is taken from Blake's poem "The Garden Of Love," which itself forms the basis of track six. The best of Joys & Desires gets close to the effect of seeing Blake's "The Ancient Of Days" or "God Judging Adam" for the first time.
An intoxicating experience which repays your surrender.
Track Listing: The Bird With The Coppery, Keen Claws; Just Like Him; Abstinence; Jazz Envy; After A Dance Or Two, We Sit Down For A Pint With Gil And Tim; The Garden Of Love; Maxfield.
Personnel: Theo Bleckmann: vocals & electronic effects; Christian Bachner: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; Robert Friedl: alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet; Klaus Gesing: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Martin Harns: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Heinrich Von Kalnein: alto and soprano saxophones, flute; Jorg Engels, Axel Mayer, Karl Rossman, Horst-Michael Schaffer: trumpets and flugelhorns; Robert Bachner, Wolfgang Messner, Hans Radinger, Reinhard Summerer: trombones; Oliver Kent: piano; Uli Rennert: keyboards; Henning Sieverts: bass and cello; John Hollenbeck: drums and compositions.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.