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Jim Hobbs & the Fully Celebrated Orchestra: Lapis Exilis

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Boston-based altoist Jim Hobbs and his Fully Celebrated Orchestra combine vast musical prowess and playful, irreverent intelligence on Lapis Exilis. No one today is playing the alto better than Hobbs—the vast range of tones he summons from the small horn is altogether remarkable—and Orchestra members cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, bassist Timo Shanko, and drummer Django Carranza display a comparable mastery of their respective axes. Carranza and Shanko are a devastating rhythm section (Carranza's got the shifting time of jazz down, of course, but there's also a sprinkling of rock feel in his playing and he hits that snare hard). Bynum and Hobbs play together as empathetically as, say, Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry once did. Indeed, while this band is obviously affectionate towards a variety of artists and genres, the greatest influence here is Ornette's classic quartet of Cherry, Charlie Haden, and—pick your favorite—Ed Blackwell or Billy Higgins.

This is most pronounced on the album's opening track "Lord of Creatures, a "Lonely Woman -ish dirge with a magnetically memorable theme and robust soloing from Hobbs and Bynum over a shifting bass drone. The two horn players revel in microtone, using sharp or flat intonation, Ornette-style, to serve their musical purposes—then pop effortlessly back into conventional pitch.

Sometimes this produces a different effect. On the cheerfully loping country waltz "Ol' Lady Who?" or the spaghetti-western faux-Morricone album closer "Farewell"—perhaps you're getting an impression of the group's musical reach—Hobbs' flatting produces a slightly queasy, drunken-wedding-band effect that borders on parody and is somewhat evocative of Frank Zappa at his most affectionate.

If the music is playful, it is never contemptuous, and the playing is always committed. The Shanko bass solo that introduces "Three Rivers" is a great song in its own right; once the song proper gets going, Bynum's richly lyrical cornet solo dazzles with crisply articulated runs as well as husky growls and oily slurs—he's truly the perfect match for Hobbs. Carranza excels everywhere: he swings like Max Roach on "Billylillylillybilly," and on "The Mackie Burnette" (which opens with furious, skronking sax from Hobbs that's as lacerating as something from Peter Brötzmann), he plays devastating, machine-consistent dub-reggae (the added studio reverb helps). And then there's his turn-hugging snare work on the impossible start-stop math rhythms of "Throne of Osiris"—one gets the impression you could drop this guy into a polka, speed metal, or country-swing band with very successful results—as long as you didn't tell him to play too soft.

Lapis Exilis is a great CD from a powerhouse group. There are moments where the level of Ornette Coleman influence is almost distracting—but this is far from the birth-of-free-jazz equivalent of Dixieland devotees slavishly playing Sidney Bechet licks (not that there's anything wrong with that, either). Jim Hobbs and the Fully Celebrated Orchestra play virtuoso jazz music with a marked eclecticism, and if Ornette looms large in their eclectic range of influences—well, shouldn't he for everyone?

Track Listing: 1. Lord of Creatures 2. Throne of Osiris 3. Ol' Lady Who? 4. The Mackie Burnette 5. Apple Orchard and the Worm 6. Three Rivers 7. Billylillylillybilly 8. Lapis Exilis 9. Farewell

Personnel: Jim Hobbs: alto saxophone; Timo Shanko: bass; Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet; Django Carranza: drums

Title: Lapis Exilis | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Skycap Records


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