It's difficult to believe that the rich, full Mind Behind Closed Eyes is only the second release from Philadelphia's Fresh Cut Orchestra; it sounds so much more developed and mature than that. Composed by the Orchestra's core trio of drummer Anwar Marshall, bassist Jason Fraticelli and trumpeter Josh Lawrence, and rounded out by a host of guest keyboard, guitar, reed, brass and percussion players, Mind Behind Closed Eyes was recorded all the way live (including the electronics) and surveys vast geographic and imaginary landscapes. "We wanted people to be surprised by every track, to not know what would come next," Lawrence allows.
Two romantic destinations, Puerto Rico and Italy, inspire this set's bookends. Fraticelli reflects on "My Summer In Puerto Rico" with his first recorded performance on the cuatro (the sunny island's most famous stringed instrumental export), an exquisite miniature bolero that shines just as sunny and bright. "Gallo Y Gallina," an instrumental Italian gallop depicting a race between a "Rooster and Chicken" brings down the curtain on the other end. In between, "Frederico," Lawrence's imagined combination of traditional Cuban danzón rendered in Chopin's harmonies, dances like a whirling dervish upon the joyous sheet of harmony, melody and rhythm woven by pianist Brian Marsella and percussionist Francois Zayas.
"New Expectations" seems to honor Pat Methenywith Marshall's pinwheeling yet flowing rhythms as the single tie that binds the horn chart and shimmering, strummed guitar chords together, then exploding through its climax with thundering echoes of Elvin Jones. "I believe Philly musicians have a certain conception of rhythm that we all agree upon, a rhythmic dialogue that we all understand," Marshall explains. "That language is very hard swinging, but its timing is laid back and relaxed."
"Mind Behind Closed Eyes" and "Augmented Reality" present different sides of the same introspective coin. The title track seems to open at its climax and remain there, especially the Fraticelli/Marshall rhythm section, which pummels the beat in flurries too fast for words. Lawrence spreads his spacewalk through his trumpet's upper register across two solos, shredding incisive and explosive modern jazz with the fearlessness of Eddie Henderson's early 1970s electric jazz-rock for Blue Note. With recurring breathing sounds, like you're walking around and listening inside someone else's head, "Augmented Reality" dives even deeper. Martial drums and baritone sax fall in step behind Fraticelli's measured walking bass into a tense, moody brooding that ultimately releases into a New Orleans trombone parade (complete with funky second line drumming)!
Mind Behind Closed Eyes was funded by the Pew Center's Philadelphia Music Project and supported in part through a grant from the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Composers Forum.
My Summer In Puerto Rico; Mind Behind Closed Eyes; Augmented Reality; Frederico; Indecision; New Expectations; Gallo Y Gallina.
Fresh Cut Orchestra: Josh Lawrence: trumpet; Jason Fraticelli: bass, cuatro; Anwar Marshall: drums. With Mark Allen: baritone sax, bass clarinet, flute; Mike Cemprola: alto sax; Brent White: trombone; Brian Marsella: piano, Rhodes; Matt Davis: guitar; Tim Conley: guitar, laptop, electric bass; Francois Zayas: percussion.