The JCA Orchestra has been an important part of the Boston jazz scene since it formed in 1985. Several of its recordings are dominated by the compositions of its leader, Darrell Katz
, but this live concert from the Berklee Performance Center features works by several orchestra members other than Katz and gives a fuller picture of the orchestra's range.
Violinist Mimi Rabson
contributes two atmospheric pieces. "Romanpole" is a musical culture clash inspired by the period when the Roman Empire had two capitals, Rome and Constantinople. A folkish dance theme led by Helen Sherrah-Davies
' violin is overtaken by a surge of orchestral marching music with a Kurt Weill tongue-in-cheek pomposity. Phil Scarff
's clarinet laughs shrilly in response but that too is overtaken by a surge of heavy, oppressive sound. "Super Eyes-Private Spies" is Rabson's frantic mashup of spy and super-hero movie soundtracks. It careens along in a rush of bongo drums, baritone sax, swirling brass and high wordless singing and eventually explodes into a giddy slow promenade.. Sherrah-Davies joins baritone player Melanie Howell-Brooks
and trombonist David Harris
in heady, extended solos.
Harris' own composition "The Latest" continues the mashup theme by imagining a meeting between the McCoy Tyner
big band that recorded Fly With The Wind
(Milestone, 1976) and traditional Thai musicians. That translates into the JCA Orchestra sailing along to a choppy Latin beat as darting layers of melody are constantly added by different parts of the orchestra, maintaining a taut tension. Melanie Howell-Brooks contributes a slinky bass clarinet solo this time and Norm Zocher
brings in a flood of buzzing, sustain-filled electric guitar out of the Terje Rypdal
universe. Harris' other piece, "Orange, Yellow, Blue" is a episodic jumble that weaves together many ideas including a creeping tango, funk beats, and collages of abstraction and contrasting melody lines. Sections of the orchestra repeat differing melodies on top of one another and trombonist Jason Camelio
and trumpeter Dan Rosenthal cut through the clatter with violent, hard-hitting solos. Despite all its seeming confusion, the music manages to maintain a sense of edge and danger throughout.
Trombonist Bob Pilkington
contributes "The Sixth Snake" in which low brass harmonies slowly unwind into a moody melody carried by a mellow fusion of brass, guitar, vibraphone and voice. There is an exotica vibe through the piece as the entire orchestra takes up the theme. Its second half features Maxim Lubarsky
's dramatic piano, Pilkington's braying trombone over a funky beat and Lihi Haruvi
's thick soprano sax serenade.
Darrell Katz does have one composition here, "A Wallflower in the Amazon," based on a poem by his late wife, Paula Tartarus. The orchestra has recorded this before but it has been rescored to include additional strings. In this work the ensemble shifts and slithers about while Rebecca Shrimpton
sings Tartarus' words through, over and around the orchestra's hypnotic instrumental tapestry. Some of the highlights here are an EWI and violin duet and a section where soprano sax, trumpet and alto sax trade solos but everything climaxes when Shrimpton, the JCA Orchestra's secret weapon, breaks into a section of fiercely dramatic improvised singing as the orchestra seethes beneath her.
This CD demonstrates the full range and power of the JCA Orchestra. It also shows how many excellent composers are within its ranks and how the ensemble can stylishly navigate music that bursts with complex ideas. . The JCA Orchestra has quietly become one of the finest large jazz ensembles in the country.
Romanpole; The Latest; The Sixth Snake; Orange, Yellow, Blue; A Wallflower in the Amazon; Super Eyes -
Hiro Honshuko: EWI; Lihi Haruvi: soprano sax; Phil Scarff: clarinet, soprano sax; Melanie Howell-Brooks:
bass clarinet; Jesse Williams: bass; Norm Zocher: guitar; Tino D'Agostino: conductor (1,2,3,6); David Harris
: conductor (4); Darrel Katz: conductor (5).