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Even though it veers occasionally into choppy waters, this ambitious album by the Colin Byrne Jazz Orchestra starts on an even keel and charts a generally straight-ahead course before crashing headlong onto the shoals of free jazz. Among comparable ensembles, the one that most immediately came to my mind is the Mingus Big Band, which should give aficionados an idea of Byrne's game plan and mindset.
Byrne, whom I assume is Irishthe orchestra is British-based and was recorded (live) at the Brudenell Social Club in Leedsis a young composer/arranger who respects the big band tradition but has some fresh ideas for the new millennium, most of which fit quite snugly into the time-honored big-band format. Even his stab at free jazz, "Demolition Baritone, isn't so "free as to abandon musical convention altogether, as there are recognizable (and quite pleasing) melodies complementing the more unrehearsed digressions of baritone saxophonist Sam Thornton and drummer Tony Faulkner.
Despite its uncommon name, the opener, "Crazy Monday, is a fairly straightforward anthem whose occasional dissonances aren't in the least unpleasant. Even so, braving its nearly twenty-minute playing time is an exercise in alertness and self-control. One can hear the Mingus influence underscoring extended solos by Thornton, Faulkner, trombonist Andy Hiller, pianist Chris Moore, guitarist Darren Dutson-Bromley and bassist Paul Moore. The fast-paced "Talking encompasses earnest solos by Moore, Dutson-Bromley, tenor Tony Burkill and trumpeter Jamie Hamilton, while Byrne's Irish connection is most prominent on "1916, written to honor the Dublin uprising of Easter 1916 that led to the formation of the Republic of Ireland. The enterprising solos are by Moore, Faulkner, tenor Rob Mitchell and trumpeter Sean Hollis.
"Leaving for Home, written, says Byrne, while his girlfriend was packing her bags to split, "is quite a happy tune. No hard feelings, I suppose. The centerpiece is a lengthy solo by Burkill during which he occasionally strays well over the top, causing one to search for the nearest bottle of aspirin. "Time to Remind Me is Byrne's interesting nod toward modal Jazz, "As If Only a dynamic theme written for one of Byrne's close friends, clarinetist Alison Sheldon. Hamilton, Moore, Faulkner and trombonist Matt Ball are the soloists on "Remind Me, Ball, Hamilton, Burkill (clarinet) and alto Don Donnelley on "As If Only.
Byrne's orchestra is impressive, his compositions and arrangements no less so, and Leaving for Home is a splendid album for those who appreciate contemporary big band jazz with a cutting edge.
Track Listing: Crazy Monday; Talking; 1916; Leaving for Home; Time to Remind Me; As If Only; Demolition
Personnel: Colin Byrne: composer, arranger, leader; Tom Tait, Sean Hollis, Gareth Smith, James Hamilton: trumpet; Don Donnelly, Steve Salkind, Tony Burkill, Rob Mitchell, Sam Thornton: reeds; Matt Ball, Andy Hillier, Scott Coutts, Chris Hibbard: trombone; Chris Moore: piano; Darren Dutson-Bromley: guitar; Paul Moore: bass; Tony Faulkner: drums.