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Mike Holober and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra at The Jazz Standard, NYC

Budd Kopman By

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Mike Holober and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra
The Jazz Standard
New York City, New York
February 11, 2008

That The Jazz Standard was packed on a very cold Monday night for the early set, and sold out for the second set, is a tribute to the following that pianist/composer Mike Holober has built, notwithstanding the friends of the band and the press that were in attendance.

This eighteen-piece group (4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 5 reeds/flutes, guitar, bass, drums, percussion and piano) was here to premier a new Holober multi-movement piece Hiding Out, commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art's After 5 Series. Along with a few shorter pieces, all of the music appears on the Orchestra's new release, Quake, which will come out in the spring. The Gotham Jazz Orchestra's previous release, Thought Trains (Sons of Sound, 2004), garnered good reviews, and the current band has a number of the same members.

From the first notes of the title piece of Quake, Holober impressed with interesting sounds, harmonies and voicings while the band showed extreme precision. The orchestra's full sound could get rather loud, especially from the trumpets, but in general the arranging produced a remarkable range of sonic mixtures.

A single voice would often come forward to play a line and blossom into a solo, blurring the distinction between the composed and the improvised sections of the work, and the solos were spread around the group, each attractive and exciting yet utterly unique. Numerous surprising sectional transitions brought murmurs from the crowd.

The entire second half of the set was given over to Hiding Out, which Holober introduced by describing how it was his good fortune to get a three-week residency in northeastern Wyoming, settled amid rolling fields, mountains, elk and a bracing wind. Thus, each of the movements—especially the last, "It Was Just The Wind"—was an emotional sound painting, or musical impression, featuring ensemble passages and solos of varying swing and intensity.

An issue that unavoidably raised its head is that this musical territory is practically owned, through dint of persistence and hard work, by Maria Schneider, and indeed the music had the feel of Big Sky meets "Cerulean Skies," the latter from the album Sky Blue (ArtistShare, 2007), winner of the Grammy in the category "Best Instrumental Composition." This is not to say that Holober intended to copy Schneider's sound, but rather that, at least with "Hiding Out," he might do better to work towards a more personally distinctive compositional voice to preempt the comparison. To be fair, there are differences of emotional and musical emphasis, but the stylistic overlap is sufficiently great that the music will most likely be heard through the lens of the pre-existing sounds and style of Schneider. Nevertheless, the audience responded warmly and strongly, clearly wanting to be bathed in more of the same musical waters.

Holober is an extremely talented player, composer and arranger, and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra provides a wonderful vehicle for his compositions. He has created music that, upon the hearing, is both beautiful and moving, and it swings. The lingering question concerning the finished work's originality of conception is one that, at least to this listener, has yet to be resolved.

Personnel:

Piano, Conductor: Mike Holober

Reeds: Dave Pietro, Jon Gordon, Tim Ries, Charles Pillow, Steve Kenyon

Trumpets: Tony Kadleck, Craig Johnson, Brian Pareschi, Marvin Stamm (+flugelhorn)

Trombones: Bruce Eidem, Mark Patterson, Rock Ciccarone, Nathan Durham

Guitar: Steve Cardenas

Bass: John Hebert

Drums: Andy Watson

Percussion: Rogerio Boccato

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