Daniel Hersog is the latest arrival in a long-running parade of world-class jazz composer-arrangers from Canada, albeit not in the image of Rob McConnell, Phil Nimmons or Rick Wilkins but more akin to some of his mentors including (but not limited to) John Hollenbeck, Ken Schaphorst and Dave Holland. Night Devoid of Stars (named for a premise by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), Hersog's debut recording as leader of his Jazz Orchestra, consists of half a dozen of his original compositions and one standard, Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."
For the most part this is cerebral music designed for the more perceptive listener. That does not mean, however, that it is not jazz, neither that it does not swing. In his own special way, Hersog covers those bases while lending the music a singular complexion that expresses his contemporary point of view. Even though Hersog's music is elaborate and multi-layered, he allocates ample space for extended solos, especially by pianist Frank Carlberg and tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, each of whom is spotlighted on five of the album's seven numbers. They are admirable soloists, especially in the forward-leaning environment that serves as their launching pad. Preminger is most salient on the ballad "Makeshift Memorial," Carlberg on "Motion" and what Hersog portrays as a "macabre" version of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (a description that is inarguably precise).
The album opens on a genial note with the sunny and accessible "Cloud Break," on which Preminger and trumpeter Brad Turner are the soloists, before moving on to the mellow Keith Jarrett-inspired "Motion" and "Makeshift Memorial." Carlberg's dancing piano introduces the title song, an animated and powerful "distillation," Hersog observes, of what can be heard before and after, on which Preminger and Turner again take center stage. Kern is next up, followed by the sleek and seductive "Indelible," on which clarinetists Tom Keenlyside and Michael Braverman establish a groovy matrix and Preminger follows suit. The rhythmic "Song for Henrique," which closes the curtain, traverses the lyric map from classical to free jazz to Middle Eastern motifs, all of which are cherished by its dedicatee, the Brazilian pianist Henrique Eisenmann. It is an altogether suitable finale that marks the impressive debut of a composer-arranger whose jazz perspective is inclusive and far-reaching.
Cloud Break; Motion; Makeshift Memorial; Night Devoid of Stars; Smoke Gets in Your Eyes; Indelible; Song for