When most people think of jazz big bands, the swinging sounds of large ensembles may come to mind, but of late there has been an emergence of jazz orchestras that perform a broader scope of different jazz styles with an emphasis on complex composition as well has larger than life music. New York composer/trumpeter Justin Mullens brings his own ideas to the field with his Delphian Jazz Orchestra, featuring a sixteen piece ensemble and resulting in some challenging and edgy pieces that are clearly geared for attentive and discriminating listeners.
Notwithstanding the elements of a large jazz ensemble, this is not your typical recording as each of the ten compositions are layered with highly composed horn arrangements, varying tempo changes, and music influences ranging from Ellington, Stravinsky, to Frank Zappa. The complexity of the music easily competes with commissioned works of chamber orchestras, with detailed instrumental sections and heady musicianship.
The musicians in the DJO perform with abundant skill as each instrument gives birth to the written material. This is fully realized on the three part opus "Beowulf" with a cinematic-like theme filled with rich instrument sections, changing moods, and deep solo spots from Mullens and various musicians. Other branches of the music include the addition of operatic vocals on the "Trifler," which oddly works within the context of the music.
The quick changing patterns within each selection keeps things interesting but is also one of the challenges as various themes quickly appear then suddenly vanish. Just when a groove gets good, it changes; yet clearly the music is not geared towards melody alone but also highlighting the deep writing skills of Justin Mullens and the performance of his unique orchestra.
Track Listing: 1. Pietro the Gouty
2. Daphne Laureola
3. The Viking
4. Beowulf Part 1: "Grendel"
5. Beowulf Part 2: "The End for Hrunting"
6. Beowulf Part 3: "Wiglaf and the Dragon"
7. The Trifler
8. The Icecream Man
9. The Apple and the Box
10. A Set of Triggers
Personnel: Chris Cheek (alto sax);
Ryan Shore (alto sax, clarinet, flute);
Dave Barraza (tenor sax);
Matt Glassmeyer (tenor sax, soprano sax);
Matt Cowan (baritone sax);
Larry Gillespie(trumpet, flugelhorn);
Dave Smith (trumpet, flugelhorn);
Erik Jekabson (trumpet, flugelhorn);
Justin Mullens (trumpet, flugelhorn);
Paul Olenick (trombone);
Jacob Garchik (trombone);
Max Seigel (bass trombone);
Danny Weiss (drums);
Masa Kamaguchi (bass);
Peter Thompson (guitar);
Judith Berkson (vocals)
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid. For some reason I remember an arrangement of Hey Jude they did. My first real exposure was Stan Kenton in the Smithville, MO high school gym. Kenton and the band director there were old friends, so he would play there from time to time. My dad took me without telling me where we were going and it was the only show he ever took me to. I remember that Bobby Shew played Send In Clowns and I damn near levitated I was so excited. The huge sound and amazing chords floored me. I believe I was 13 at the time. I immediately started practicing and taking lessons. Music became a passion and nearly a career. I also listened to Dick Wright's Jazz Show on KANU every night. I can't even start to explain what I learned lying in bed listening to Dick talk about jazz. I met him once when I was struggling to put together a solo for Joy Spring playing in a combo at KU. Stopped by his office and asked for recommendations. He showed up at my jazz ensemble rehearsal the next day with a tape with example solos. What a kind man Dick Wright was.
My advice to new listeners is to stop worrying about what music is important and focus on music you like. I spent quite a bit of my music life listening to important music I didn't necessarily like. Must say I have quite a bit more fun now listening to music that I deeply enjoy. Some of it is even important.
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