Keyboardist Jason Lindner has been a staple of the New York jazz scene for some time now, working in a variety of capacities for different projects; but his distinctive musical character shines brightest through his long-running big band, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2005, when Anzic Records' Live At The Jazz Gallery
Evoking the large ensemble works of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Gil Evans, as well as Randy Weston and Horace Tapscott, Lindner reflects the stellar array of modern instrumentalists at his disposal while showcasing his unique composing, arranging and bandleading skills throughout nine lengthy pieces full of soulful solos, winding ensemble passages and colorful rhythmic inventions.
The latter is immediately evident on many of the album's tunes, as Lindner makes imaginative use of ostinatos in a highly personalized hybrid of various strains of Afro-Latin and Middle Eastern idioms.
Though many of the tunes are in odd or mixed meters, the players' rhythmic authority and emphasis on the melodic aspects of the tunes ensure that the pieces are no mere exercises in mathematics, but head-nodding songs drenched in swing, funk and clave. The groove factor is especially indebted to drummer Eric McPherson, who combines low-end anchoring with airy coloration in a way that earned him first-call status for late luminaries Jackie McLean and Andrew Hill.
Despite some tightly orchestrated ensemble passages, Lindner's writing gives plenty of flexibility, allowing the band to breathe together in a way that makes even the trickiest of changes seem to float by in a natural progression. This elastic quality provides an ample cushion for expert soloists such as Miguel Zenon on alto sax; clarinetist Anat Cohen; trumpeters Duane Eubanks and Avishai Cohen; and bassist Omer Avital, among others.
Each is urged on by textured ensemble backgrounds full of surging brass counterpoint, moody harmonic atmospheres and shifting polyrhythms, as well as Lindner's interjections on both piano and the multifaceted Nord Electro 2 keyboard.
The breadth and depth of the band's skill is evident on tracks like the eighteen-minute opus "The 5 Elements and the Natural Trinity, which twists through an angular, odd-metered beat based on an extended clave pattern and punctuated by ultra-syncopated horn accents. The ensemble's ability to navigate the lengthy arrangement, while maintaining a sense of improvised surprise chorus after chorus of fiery, outside-leaning solos, is truly remarkable.
Following that tune's somewhat esoteric tendencies with the blues-drenched R&B backbeat of "Poem for You Today, featuring the gritty vocals of multi-talented reedsman Jay Collins, is an excellent choice of setlist programming that exhibits the ensemble's stylistic range.
Working with a wide palette of emotive hues, a profound mastery of dynamics and vast technical facilities in service of a unified expression of lyrical sensibilities, the Jason Lindner Big Band has emerged as a fascinating, internationally-flavored hybrid branch of this music called jazz.